Reference frames for reach planning in human parietofrontal cortex
Abstract: To plan a reaching movement, the brain must integrate information about the spatial goal of the reach with positional information about the selected hand. Recent monkey neurophysiological evidence suggests that a mixture of reference frames is involved in this process. Here, using 3T functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI), we tested the role of gaze-centered and body-centered reference frames in reach planning in the human brain. Fourteen human subjects planned and executed arm movements to memorized visual targets, while hand starting position and gaze direction were monitored and varied on a trial-by-trial basis. We further introduced a variable delay between target presentation and movement onset to dissociate cerebral preparatory activity from stimulus- and movement-related responses. By varying the position of the target and hand relative to the gaze line, we distinguished cerebral responses that increased for those movements requiring the integration of peripheral target and hand positions in a gaze-centered frame. Posterior parietal and dorsal premotor areas showed such gaze-centered integration effects. In regions closer to the primary motor cortex, body-centered hand position effects were found. These results suggest that, in humans, spatially contiguous neuronal populations operate in different frames of reference, supporting sensorimotor transformations according to gaze-centered or body-centered coordinates. The former appears suited for calculating a difference vector between target and hand location, whereas the latter may be related to the implementation of a joint-based motor command.
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