Motor cortex — to act or not to act?

Abstract

The motor cortex is a large frontal structure in the cerebral cortex of eutherian mammals. A vast array of evidence implicates the motor cortex in the volitional control of motor output, but how does the motor cortex exert this 'control'? Historically, ideas regarding motor cortex function have been shaped by the discovery of cortical 'motor maps' — that is, ordered representations of stimulation-evoked movements in anaesthetized animals. Volitional control, however, entails the initiation of movements and the ability to suppress undesired movements. In this article, we highlight classic and recent findings that emphasize that motor cortex neurons have a role in both processes.

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Figure 1: Two opposing views of the motor cortex.
Figure 2: From motor cortex to muscle output: anatomy and functional connectivity.
Figure 3: Motor cortex activity during movement.
Figure 4: Movement patterns after motor cortex inactivation.
Figure 5: The neurophysiology of not moving.

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Acknowledgements

The authors thank J. Poulet, M. Vestergaard, A. Clemens, R. Rao and A. Neukirchner for valuable discussions and comments on the manuscript. This work was funded by the Humboldt Universität zu Berlin within the Excellence Initiative of the states and the federal government, BCCN Berlin (German Federal Ministry of Education and Research BMBF, Förderkennzeichen 01GQ1001A), NeuroCure and the Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz Prize of the DFG.

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Ebbesen, C., Brecht, M. Motor cortex — to act or not to act?. Nat Rev Neurosci 18, 694–705 (2017). https://doi.org/10.1038/nrn.2017.119

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