Spike Synchronization and Rate Modulation Differentially Involved in Motor Cortical Function

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Science  12 Dec 1997:
Vol. 278, Issue 5345, pp. 1950-1953
DOI: 10.1126/science.278.5345.1950

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It is now commonly accepted that planning and execution of movements are based on distributed processing by neuronal populations in motor cortical areas. It is less clear, though, how these populations organize dynamically to cope with the momentary computational demands. Simultaneously recorded activities of neurons in the primary motor cortex of monkeys during performance of a delayed-pointing task exhibited context-dependent, rapid changes in the patterns of coincident action potentials. Accurate spike synchronization occurred in relation to external events (stimuli, movements) and was commonly accompanied by discharge rate modulations but without precise time locking of the spikes to these external events. Spike synchronization also occurred in relation to purely internal events (stimulus expectancy), where firing rate modulations were distinctly absent. These findings indicate that internally generated synchronization of individual spike discharges may subserve the cortical organization of cognitive motor processes.

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