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Distinct descending motor cortex pathways and their roles in movement

By Michael N Economo, Sarada Viswanathan, Bosiljka Tasic, Erhan Bas, Johan Winnubst, Vilas Menon, Lucas Graybuck, Thuc Nghi Nguyen, Lihua Wang, Charles R. Gerfen, Jayaram Chandrashekar, Hongkui Zeng, Loren L. Looger, Karel Svoboda

Posted 05 Dec 2017
bioRxiv DOI: 10.1101/229260 (published DOI: 10.1038/s41586-018-0642-9)

Activity in motor cortex predicts specific movements, seconds before they are initiated. This preparatory activity has been observed in L5 descending "pyramidal tract" (PT) neurons. A key question is how preparatory activity can be maintained without causing movement, and how preparatory activity is eventually converted to a motor command to trigger appropriate movements. We used single cell transcriptional profiling and axonal reconstructions to identify two types of PT neuron. Both types share projections to multiple targets in the basal ganglia and brainstem. One type projects to thalamic regions that connect back to motor cortex. In a delayed-response task, these neurons produced early preparatory activity that persisted until the movement. The second type projects to motor centers in the medulla and produced late preparatory activity and motor commands. These results indicate that two motor cortex output neurons are specialized for distinct roles in motor control.

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