On the relations between single cell activity in the motor cortex and the direction and magnitude of three-dimensional static isometric force

Masato Taira, Jyl Boline, Nikolaos Smyrnis, Apostolos P Georgopoulos, James Ashe

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96 Scopus citations


We examined the relations between the steady-state frequency of discharge of cells in the arm area of the motor cortex of the monkey and the direction and magnitude of the three-dimensional static force exerted by the arm on an isometric manipulandum. Data were analyzed from two monkeys (n=188 cells) using stepwise multiple linear regression. In 154 of 188 (81.9%) cells the regression model was statistically significant (P<0.05). In 121 of 154 (78.6%) cells the direction but not the magnitude of force had a statistically significant effect on cell activity; in 11 of 154 (7.1%) cells only the magnitude effect was significant; and in 22 of 154 (14.3%) cells both the direction and magnitude effects were significant. The same analysis was used to assess the effect of the direction and magnitude of force on the electromyographic activity of 9 muscles of the arm and shoulder girdle. The regression model was statistically significant. For all the muscles studied in 4 of 9 (44.4%) muscles only the direction effect was significant whereas in the remaining 5 of 9 (55.6%) muscles both the direction and the magnitude were significant. No muscle studied showed a significant effect of force magnitude alone. These differences in the frequency of occurrence of directional and magnitude effects between cells and muscles were statistically significant (P < 0.005, χ2 test). These findings underscore the fundamental importance of the direction of force in space for both motor cortical cells and proximal muscles and underline the differential relations of the cells and muscles to the direction and magnitude of force. These results indicate that the specification of the magnitude of three-dimensional force is embedded within the directional signal; this combined direction+magnitude effect was 3.9 times more prevalent in the muscles than in the cells studied. In contrast, the pure directional effect was 1.8 times more prevalent in the cells than in the muscles studied. This suggests that the direction of force can be controlled independently of its magnitude and that this direction signal is especially prominent in the motor cortex.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)367-376
Number of pages10
JournalExperimental Brain Research
Issue number3
StatePublished - 1996


  • Isometric force
  • Monkey
  • Motor cortex
  • Static force
  • Three-dimensional force


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