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Keywords:

  • brain mapping;
  • coordination;
  • human;
  • motor cortex;
  • movement

Abstract

The purpose of this study was to examine the cerebral control of simultaneous movements of the upper and lower limbs. We examined two hypotheses on how the brain coordinates movement: (i) by the involvement of motor representations shared by both limbs; or (ii) by the engagement of specific neural populations. We used positron emission tomography to measure the relative cerebral blood flow in healthy subjects performing isolated cyclic flexion–extension movements of the wrist and ankle (i.e. movements of wrist or ankle alone), and simultaneous movements of the wrist and ankle (a rest condition was also included). The simultaneous movements were performed in the same directions (iso-directional) and in opposite directions (antidirectional). There was no difference in the brain activity between these two patterns of coordination. In several motor-related areas (e.g. the contralateral ventral premotor area, the dorsal premotor area, the supplementary motor area, the parietal operculum and the posterior parietal cortex), the representation of the isolated wrist movement overlapped with the representation of the isolated ankle movement. Importantly, the simultaneous movements activated the same set of motor-related regions that were active during the isolated movements. In the contralateral ventral premotor cortex, dorsal premotor cortex and parietal operculum, there was less activity during the simultaneous movements than for the sum of the activity for the two isolated movements (interaction analysis). Indeed, in the ventral premotor cortex and parietal operculum, the activity was practically identical regardless whether only the wrist, only the ankle, or both the wrist and the ankle were moved. Taken together, these findings suggest that interlimb coordination is mediated by motor representations shared by both limbs, rather than being mediated by specific additional neural populations.