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Published December 11, 2020 | Supplemental Material + Published
Journal Article Open

The human primary somatosensory cortex encodes imagined movement in the absence of sensory information


Classical systems neuroscience positions primary sensory areas as early feed-forward processing stations for refining incoming sensory information. This view may oversimplify their role given extensive bi-directional connectivity with multimodal cortical and subcortical regions. Here we show that single units in human primary somatosensory cortex encode imagined reaches in a cognitive motor task, but not other sensory–motor variables such as movement plans or imagined arm position. A population reference-frame analysis demonstrates coding relative to the cued starting hand location suggesting that imagined reaching movements are encoded relative to imagined limb position. These results imply a potential role for primary somatosensory cortex in cognitive imagery, engagement during motor production in the absence of sensation or expected sensation, and suggest that somatosensory cortex can provide control signals for future neural prosthetic systems.

Additional Information

© 2020 The Author(s). This article is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License, which permits use, sharing, adaptation, distribution and reproduction in any medium or format, as long as you give appropriate credit to the original author(s) and the source, provide a link to the Creative Commons license, and indicate if changes were made. The images or other third party material in this article are included in the article's Creative Commons license, unless indicated otherwise in a credit line to the material. If material is not included in the article's Creative Commons license and your intended use is not permitted by statutory regulation or exceeds the permitted use, you will need to obtain permission directly from the copyright holder. To view a copy of this license, visit http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0/. Received 26 February 2020; Accepted 15 November 2020; Published 11 December 2020. This work was supported by the National Institute of Health (R01EY015545, 5U01NS098975-02), the Tianqiao and Chrissy Chen Brain-machine Interface Center at Caltech, the Conte Center for Social Decision Making at Caltech (P50MH094258), the David Geffen Medical Scholarship, and the Boswell Foundation. The authors would also like to thank subject FG for participating in the studies, and Viktor Scherbatyuk for technical assistance. Data availability: All primary behavioral and neurophysiological data are archived in the Division of Biology and Biological Engineering at the California Institute of Technology and are available from the corresponding author on reasonable request. Source data underlying plots shown in figures are provided in Supplementary Data 1. Code availability: All custom-written analysis code is available from the corresponding author on reasonable request. Author Contributions: M.J., T.A., and R.A.A designed the study. M.J. and T.A developed experimental tasks, designed analysis and analyzed the data. M.J., S.C., S.S.K, and M.A.S. collected the data. S.L.N contributed code. M.J. and T.A. interpreted results and wrote the original draft. M.J., T.A., S.C., and R.A.A. reviewed and edited the paper. T.A. and R.A.A. provided mentorship. T.A., S.K., and R.A.A. acquired funding. K.P. provided administrative and regulatory assistance. C.Y.L. performed implantation surgery. The authors declare no competing interests.

Attached Files

Published - s42003-020-01484-1.pdf

Supplemental Material - 42003_2020_1484_MOESM1_ESM.pdf

Supplemental Material - 42003_2020_1484_MOESM2_ESM.pdf

Supplemental Material - 42003_2020_1484_MOESM3_ESM.xlsx


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