Neuronal activity in the motor cortex is understood to be correlated with movements, but the impact of action potentials (APs) in single cortical neurons on the generation of movement has not been fully determined. Here we show that trains of APs in single pyramidal cells of rat motor cortex can evoke long sequences of small whisker movements. For layer-5 pyramids, we find that evoked rhythmic movements have a constant phase relative to the AP train, indicating that single layer-5 pyramids can reset the rhythm of whisker movements. Action potentials evoked in layer-6 pyramids can generate bursts of rhythmic whisking, with a variable phase of movements relative to the AP train. An increasing number of APs decreases the latency to onset of movement, whereas AP frequency determines movement direction and amplitude. We find that the efficacy of cortical APs in evoking whisker movements is not dependent on background cortical activity and is greatly enhanced in waking rats. We conclude that in vibrissae motor cortex sparse AP activity can evoke movements.
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We thank I. Manns, R. Friedrich, C. Schwarz, W. Denk and S. Petrou for comments and R. Erickson for inspiration; E. Heil, M. Kaiser, R. Rödel, P. Mayer and K. Schmidt for technical assistance; and A. Krauss, S. Muhammad, S. Bellanca and L. Sinai-Esfahani for help with cell staining and reconstruction. This work was supported by the Max Planck Society, the NHMRC of Australia and the Wellcome Trust.
The authors declare that they have no competing financial interests.
Comparison of L5- and L6-cell stimulation effects. (PDF 27 kb)
Effect of action potential frequency and number on evoked movements: averaged traces. (PDF 36 kb)
Interaction of initiated action potentials with cortical up states and down states. (PDF 567 kb)
Whisker movements evoked by intracellular stimulation of an L6 cell. (MP4 2457 kb)
Whisker movements evoked by intracellular stimulation of an L5 cell. (MP4 2493 kb)
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Brecht, M., Schneider, M., Sakmann, B. et al. Whisker movements evoked by stimulation of single pyramidal cells in rat motor cortex. Nature 427, 704–710 (2004). https://doi.org/10.1038/nature02266
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