Neuroscience Notes - Neurobiology of Motor Systems

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Notes taken form Neuroscience course, Part 3: Neurobiology of Motor Systems.

Last update: Oct. 31, 2020


Eng Chs Comment
somatotopy N/A soma-:body; -topy:org/mapping
rostral   towards head (face)
caudal   towards tail (back head)
dorsal   towards back (top head)
ventral   towards stomach
ipsilateral   same side
contralateral   opposite side
cerebral 大脑的  
proximal   closer (to head)
distal   further (to head)
coronal plane   耳朵和头顶的平面
sagittal plane   鼻子嘴头顶的平面
lobe 脑叶  
corpus callosum 胼胝体 连接半脑的
sulci folds
gyri 脑回  
cortex 皮层、灰质  
afferent   (生理的) input
cerebellum 小脑  
proprioception 本体感受  
kinesthesia 运动觉  
spindle 纺锤  
myelinated 有髓鞘的  
flexor 屈肌  
parietal 腔壁的;颅顶骨的  
pons 脑桥  



pic from:

  • cortex: 6 layers

Brain areas definitions

  • Brodmann’s areas: divide brain into different areas, cytoarchitecture
  • Functionality


  • monkey: usually used for experiments
  • single neuron recordings: raster plots


Tech (superthreshold) Area Record
Microstimulation Neuron(s) behavior/state
Single or paired pulse TMS 1cm^2 cortex Amplitude of muscle twitches
Repetitive TMS 1cm^2 cortex behavior/state
tDCS 3x3cm^2 cortex behavior/state


Tech Record
Single unit recording freq. of neuron firing
EMG Electrical activity in muscle
fMRI Changes in BOLD signal



  • Somatotopy: The brain represents the body in an organized way



Proprioception and Spinal Reflexes

  • Proprioception: sense of limb position, limb movement, tension or force, effort, balance
  • Kinesthesia: sense of limb position, limb movement
  • motor control: feedback/feedforward


Muscle spindles

Respond to stretch

  • stretched: high freq.
  • contracted: low freq.
  • Gamma motor neurons maintain spindle sensitivity
  • Joint replacement surgery:posi & mov sense remained intact

Golgi tendon organs

Respond to force & heaviness

  • Vibration Experiment: over tendon => illusory movement/position change

Skin stretch

  • Movement sensation at most joints
  • Afferents have similar sensitivity as spindle afferents, and populations have similar directional sensitivity.


  • Exercise can affect proprioception
    • Awkwardness/clumsiness after intense exercise is not just fatigued muscles
    • Proprioceptive errors after exercise are NOT generated within the muscles
  • Aging can affect proprioception
    • Sarcopenia: loss of muscle mass associated with aging
    • Spindles in aged muscle have fewer intrafusal fibers (Swash & Fox, 1972)
  • Disease/injury can affect proprioception

Spinal Cord

  • Myelinated white fiber tracts (axons) surround a gray, butterfly-shaped region (cell bodies).
  • Spinal tracts carry information to (afferent pathways) and from (efferent pathways) the brain, or between different spinal levels (propriospinal pathways).


  • Spinal stretch reflex
  • Flexor withdrawal
  • Crossed extension: excite contralateral extensors and inhibit contralateral flexors
  • Hoffmann response (H-reflex)
  • Reflexes can be modulated, by descending inputs as well as peripheral inputs

Central pattern generators

Neuronal networks that are capable of generating and sustaining rhythmic motor activity in the absence of sensory feedback or descending input

  • Human CPGs are less clear

Motor & Premotor cortices

Primary motor cortex (M1)

  • M1 has gross somatotopy & forms most of the corticospinal tract
  • M1 codes for movement force and direction
  • M1 and skilled motor performance
  • M1 output: Large pyramidal cell neurons (found in layer 5 of cortex) comprise the lateral corticospinal tract.
  • M1 input: other motor areas; Somatosensory and posterior parietal cortical areas; subcortical structures
  • BOTH muscle activity and movement direction are represented in M1. (Kakei et al. 1999 )
  • M1 may be a site of transformation from coding of direction into muscle-like coordinates
  • Skilled movement <= Plasticity
“What” “Where”, “How”
Grasping Reaching
Object perception Spatial attention
Action understanding Working memory


  • PMv translates sensory information about peripersonal space into appropriate action => Grasping
    • Caudal PMv involved in peripersonal space perception
    • Rostral PMv represents hand and mouth movements
  • Visuomotor transformation for grasping involves parietofrontal network that includes PMv


  • PMd associated with reach preparation
  • Most neurons were modulated by direction and distance.
  • Visuomotor transformation for reaching involves parietofrontal network that includes PMd
  • 70% of PMd cells: motor preparation; 30%: spatial attention


  • SMA neurons care about sequences with conditions
  • Movement sequences
  • Internally generated and mental rehearsal of movements.
  • Linking conditions to actions
  • Intention to move

Non-invasive brain stimulation

Transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS)

  • To measure cortical activity
  • To determine cause and effect
  • To understand disease
  • Treatment (?)

The corticospinal pathway



  1. TMS coil (with current pulse)
  2. Magnetic field B
  3. Electric filed E in cortex
  4. A current in the cortical tissue
  5. Depolarization: a set of corticospinal cells (direct/indirect)
  6. Pulse in EMG
  • Coil shape and focality matters
  • Coil can not have deep effect and be very focal

EMG response: Motor evoked potential (MEP)

  • Response to stimulation of contralateral M1
  • Easiest to measure in hand muscles
  • Motor hot spot: The location in M1 that yields the largest MEP for a given muscle
  • Neuronavigation: brainsight: brain mapping


  • MEP delay <= distance of the muscle from motor cortex
  • Amplitude <= M1 excitability, TMS intensity, awareness, muscle contraction
  • Silent period


  • Excitability
  • Changes in the cortical map
    • pretraining - training - posttraining
    • shift/expansion in the area that represents a muscle
    • use-dependent plasticity
  • Connectivity

Recruitment curve (input/output curve)

  • Stimulus intensity - MEP(mV)
  • Gradual increase in TMS intensity => Gradual increase in MEP amplitude
  • Plasticity = change in slope

Paired pulse TMS

  • Assess changes in networks of interneurons within M1
  • Sub-threshold conditioning pulse (CP) followed by supra-threshold test pulse (TP)

Measuring connectivity

  • Paired pulse TMS
    • Test pulse over M1
    • Preceded by conditioning pulse over area connected to M1

Cause and effect

brain area X => behavior Y?

  • Neuroimaging(fMRI) -> Correlation but not causation
  • lesion study -> Yes, but not so practical
  • brain stimulation -> rTMS/tDSC

Repetitive TMS (rTMS)

  • Train of pulses (subthreshold)
  • Can increase or decrease excitability depending on pattern/frequency: LTP/LTD-like mechanism
  • Can affect behavior: Effect lasts past the end of stimulation
  • Often used outside of M1

Theta Burst TMS

  • Modified rTMS paradigm to produce clearer aftereffects in human motor cortex
  • Tried 3 stimulation paradigms and measured MEPs in hand
  • cTBS: most robust effect on behavior

Transcranial direct current stimulation (tDCS)


  • Brain stimulation technique where a weak electric current is passed through the head via two electrodes.
  • Study effect of activity in area of interest by positioning electrodes:
    • Under the anode, neurons become more excitable.
    • Under the cathode, neurons become less excitable.

Pros and Cons

  • Even lower-risk than TMS
  • Portable and cheap
  • But not as focal as TMS
  • Intervention only, doesn’t measure anything.