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Romo, R; Salinas, E (1998)


J NEUROSCI 18(1):499-511
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Movement triggered by sensory stimuli requires that the networks generating the motor commands receive an adequate driving input, which, in general, is a transformed version of the initial sensory signal. We investigated the nature of this transformation in a task in which monkeys categorize the speed of tactile stimuli as either low or high, reaching for one of two pushbuttons to indicate their choice. Extracellular recordings from primary motor cortex revealed two types of neurons selective for the speed categories: ones that fire at higher rates for low versus high speeds, and others that do the opposite. These differential responses are task-specific; no firing rate modulation was seen when identical arm movements were triggered by visual cues or when stimuli were delivered passively. Analyses using decoding and modeling techniques produced two main results. First, the neurons accurately encode the chosen category; an observer measuring their responses can exhibit a psychophysical performance during categorization identical to the monkey's. Second, by analyzing separately the trials in which hits and errors were scored, it is possible to distinguish purely sensory activity from activity exclusively related to arm motion. The recorded responses did not match either of these alternatives but were consistent with a model in which the category-tuned neurons are the link between the output of the sensory categorization process and the motor command used to indicate the animal's decision. Thus, the observed activity seems to encode a preprocessed version of the sensory stimulus and to participate in driving the arm motion.