Different population dynamics in the supplementary motor area and motor cortex during reaching

Lara, Antonio Homero; Cunningham, James P.; Churchland, Mark M.

Neural populations perform computations through their collective activity. Different computations likely require different population-level dynamics. We leverage this assumption to examine neural responses recorded from the supplementary motor area (SMA) and motor cortex. During visually guided reaching, the respective roles of these areas remain unclear; neurons in both areas exhibit preparation-related activity and complex patterns of movement-related activity. To explore population dynamics, we employ a novel “hypothesis-guided” dimensionality reduction approach. This approach reveals commonalities but also stark differences: linear population dynamics, dominated by rotations, are prominent in motor cortex but largely absent in SMA. In motor cortex, the observed dynamics produce patterns resembling muscle activity. Conversely, the non-rotational patterns in SMA co-vary with cues regarding when movement should be initiated. Thus, while SMA and motor cortex display superficially similar single-neuron responses during visually guided reaching, their different population dynamics indicate they are likely performing quite different computations.


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Nature Communications

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March 7, 2019