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Letters to Nature
Nature 386, 167 - 170 (13 March 1997); doi:10.1038/386167a0

Coding of intention in the posterior parietal cortex

L. H. Snyder, A. P. Batista  & R. A. Andersen

Division of Biology, California Institute of Technology, Pasadena, California 91125, USA

To look at or reach for what we see, spatial information from the visual system must be transformed into a motor plan. The posterior parietal cortex (PPC) is well placed to perform this function, because it lies between visual areas, which encode spatial information1,2, and motor cortical areas. The PPC contains several subdivisions, which are generally conceived as high-order sensory areas3,4. Neurons in area 7a and the lateral intraparietal area fire before and during visually guided saccades. Other neurons in areas 7a and 5 are active before and during visually guided arm movements5–10. These areas are also active during memory tasks in which the animal remembers the location of a target for hundreds of milliseconds before making an eye or arm movement. Such activity could reflect either visual attention11–15 or the intention to make movements16–22. This question is difficult to resolve, because even if the animal maintains fixation while directing attention to a peripheral location, the observed neuronal activity could reflect movements that are planned but not executed22. To address this, we recorded from the PPC while monkeys planned either reaches or saccades to a single remembered location. We now report that, for most neurons, activity before the movement depended on the type of movement being planned. We conclude that PPC contains signals related to what the animal intends to do.

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