Motor Cortex Embeds Muscle-like Commands in an Untangled Population Response (2018)

  • Paper Abigail A. Russo, Sean R. Bittner, Sean M. Perkins, Jeffrey S. Seely, Brian M. London, Antonio H. Lara, Andrew Miri, Najja J. Marshall, Adam Kohn, Thomas M. Jessell, Laurence F. Abbott, John P. Cunningham, and Mark M. Churchland. Motor Cortex Embeds Muscle-like Commands in an Untangled Population Response, Neuron. (2018)
  • Abstract

Primate motor cortex projects to spinal interneurons and motoneurons, suggesting that motor cortex activity may be dominated by muscle-like commands. Observations during reaching lend support to this view, but evidence remains ambiguous and much debated. To provide a different perspective, we employed a novel behavioral paradigm that facilitates comparison between time-evolving neural and muscle activity. We found that single motor cortex neurons displayed many muscle-like properties, but the structure of population activity was not muscle-like. Unlike muscle activity, neural activity was structured to avoid ‘‘tangling’’: moments where similar activity patterns led to dissimilar future patterns. Avoidance of tangling was present across tasks and species. Network models revealed a potential reason for this consistent feature: low tangling confers noise robustness. Finally, we were able to predict motor cortex activity from muscle activity by leveraging the hypothesis that muscle-like commands are embedded in additional structure that yields low tangling.

Written on February 2, 2018