Cortical sensorimotor mechanisms for neural control of skilled manipulation

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The human hand is a complex biological system. Humans have evolved a unique ability to use the hand for a wide range of tasks, including activities of daily living such

The human hand is a complex biological system. Humans have evolved a unique ability to use the hand for a wide range of tasks, including activities of daily living such as successfully grasping and manipulating objects, i.e., lifting a cup of coffee without spilling. Despite the ubiquitous nature of hand use in everyday activities involving object manipulations, there is currently an incomplete understanding of the cortical sensorimotor mechanisms underlying this important behavior. One critical aspect of natural object grasping is the coordination of where the fingers make contact with an object and how much force is applied following contact. Such force-to-position modulation is critical for successful manipulation. However, the neural mechanisms underlying these motor processes remain less understood, as previous experiments have utilized protocols with fixed contact points which likely rely on different neural mechanisms from those involved in grasping at unconstrained contacts. To address this gap in the motor neuroscience field, transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS) and electroencephalography (EEG) were used to investigate the role of primary motor cortex (M1), as well as other important cortical regions in the grasping network, during the planning and execution of object grasping and manipulation. The results of virtual lesions induced by TMS and EEG revealed grasp context-specific cortical mechanisms underlying digit force-to-position coordination, as well as the spatial and temporal dynamics of cortical activity during planning and execution. Together, the present findings provide the foundation for a novel framework accounting for how the central nervous system controls dexterous manipulation. This new knowledge can potentially benefit research in neuroprosthetics and improve the efficacy of neurorehabilitation techniques for patients affected by sensorimotor impairments.