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Motor Cortical Encoding of Serial Order in a Context-Recall Task

Science  12 Mar 1999:
Vol. 283, Issue 5408, pp. 1752-1757
DOI: 10.1126/science.283.5408.1752

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Abstract

The neural encoding of serial order was studied in the motor cortex of monkeys performing a context-recall memory scanning task. Up to five visual stimuli were presented successively on a circle (list presentation phase), and then one of them (test stimulus) changed color; the monkeys had to make a single motor response toward the stimulus that immediately followed the test stimulus in the list. Correct performance in this task depends on memorization of the serial order of the stimuli during their presentation. It was found that changes in neural activity during the list presentation phase reflected the serial order of the stimuli; the effect on cell activity of the serial order of stimuli during their presentation was at least as strong as the effect of motor direction on cell activity during the execution of the motor response. This establishes the serial order of stimuli in a motor task as an important determinant of motor cortical activity during stimulus presentation and in the absence of changes in peripheral motor events, in contrast to the commonly held view of the motor cortex as just an “upper motor neuron.”

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