Linking Objects to Actions: Encoding of Target Object and Grasping Strategy in Primate Ventral Premotor Cortex
Journal of Neuroscience, 35(30):10888-10897, July 2015.
Neural activity in ventral premotor cortex (PMv) has been associated with the process of matching perceived objects with the motor commands needed to grasp them. It remains unclear how PMv networks can flexibly link percepts of objects affording multiple grasp options into a final desired hand action. Here, we use a relational encoding approach to track the functional state of PMv neuronal ensembles in macaque monkeys through the process of passive viewing, grip planning, and grasping movement execution. We used objects affording multiple possible grip strategies. The task included separate instructed delay periods for object presentation and grip instruction. This approach allowed us to distinguish responses elicited by the visual presentation of the objects from those associated with selecting a given motor plan for grasping. We show that PMv continuously incorporates information related to object shape and grip strategy as it becomes available, revealing a transition from a set of ensemble states initially most closely related to objects, to a new set of ensemble patterns reflecting unique object-grip combinations. These results suggest that PMv dynamically combines percepts, gradually navigating toward activity patterns associated with specific volitional actions, rather than directly mapping perceptual object properties onto categorical grip representations. Our results support the idea that PMv is part of a network that dynamically computes motor plans from perceptual information. Significance Statement: The present work demonstrates that the activity of groups of neurons in primate ventral premotor cortex reflects information related to visually presented objects, as well as the motor strategy used to grasp them, linking individual objects to multiple possible grips. PMv could provide useful control signals for neuroprosthetic assistive devices designed to interact with objects in a flexible way.