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Keywords:

  • brain mapping;
  • handwriting;
  • humans;
  • kinematics;
  • velocity

Abstract

The present study examined the cerebral control of velocity during handwriting. We employed H215O positron emission tomography (PET) to measure the regional cerebral blood flow (rCBF) in 10 healthy subjects. Participants were required to write the German verb ‘bellen’ (‘to bark’) either at their normal speed (i.e. fast open-loop handwriting) or to write at approximately half of their normal speed without visual feedback. The second task required a continuous modification of the motor output according to the kinaesthetic feedback from the hand (i.e. slow closed-loop handwriting). Pencil movements were recorded during PET scanning and analysed off-line using a stroke-based analysing program. The mean number of inversions in velocity (NIV) per stroke was used to quantify the mode of motor control during each PET scan. A NIV of 1 indicates fast open-loop processing, whereas an increase in NIV reflects a shift towards slow closed-loop processing of handwriting. Foci in the left primary sensorimotor cortex, the right lateral premotor cortex, the left anterior parietal cortex, the left anterior putamen, the left rostral supplementary motor area and the right precuneus showed a graded increase in functional activation with the mean NIV per stroke, suggesting that this set of brain regions is particularly involved in the processing of slow closed-loop writing movements. No area showed a negative relationship between rCBF and the mean NIV per stroke, suggesting that fast open-loop handwriting is achieved by an optimized cooperation of the manual sensorimotor network rather than by a selective activation of a distinct network component.