VARIED AIMING TASKS PRODUCE SPECIFIC CHANGES IN BRAIN FUNCTION

Winstein, C. J., Grafton, S. J., & Pohl, P. S. (1997). Motor task difficulty and brain activity: investigation of goal-directed reciprocal aiming using positron emission tomography. Journal of Neurophysiology, 77, 1581-1594. [http://jn.physiology.org/cgi/content/full/77/3/1581]

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Differences in the kinematics and pattern of relative regional cerebral blood flow during goal-directed arm aiming were investigated with the use of a Fitts' continuous aiming paradigm with three difficulty conditions (index of difficulty) and two aiming types (transport vs. targeting) in six healthy right-handed young Ss with the use of video-based movement trajectory analysis and positron emission tomography. Movement time and kinematic characteristics were analyzed together with the magnitude of cerebral blood flow to identify areas of brain activity proportionate to task and movement variables.

Significant differences in regional cerebral blood flow during reciprocal aiming compared with no-movement conditions were found in a mosaic of well-known cortical and subcortical areas associated with the planning and execution of goal-directed movements. These included cortical areas in the left sensorimotor, dorsal premotor, and ventral premotor cortices, caudal supplementary motor area proper, and parietal cortex, and subcortical areas in the left putamen, globus pallidus, red nucleus, thalamus, and anterior cerebellum. As aiming task difficulty increased, regional cerebral blood flow increased in areas associated with the planning of more complex movements requiring greater visuomotor processing. These included bilateral occipital, left inferior parietal, and left dorsal cingulate cortices---caudal supplementary motor area proper and right dorsal premotor area. These same areas showed significant increases or decreases, respectively, when contrast means were compared with the use of movement time or relative acceleration time, respectively, as the weighting factor. Analysis of individual S differences revealed a correspondence between the spatial extent of regional cerebral blood flow changes as a function of task difficulty and the individuals' movement times. As task difficulty decreased, significant increases in regional cerebral blood flow were evident in the right anterior cerebellum, left middle occipital gyrus, and right ventral premotor area. Functionally, these areas are associated with aiming conditions in which the motor execution demands are high (i.e., coordination of rapid reversals) and precise trajectory planning is minimal. These same areas showed significant increases or decreases, respectively, when contrast means were compared with the use of movement time or relative acceleration time, respectively, as the weighting factor. A functional dissociation resulted from the weighted linear contrasts between larger (limb transport) or smaller (endpoint targeting) type amplitude/target width aiming conditions. Areas with significantly greater regional cerebral blood flow for targeting were the left motor cortex, left intraparietal sulcus, and left caudate. In contrast, those areas with greater regional cerebral blood flow associated with limb transport included bilateral occipital lingual gyri and the right anterior cerebellum. Various theoretical explanations for the speed/accuracy tradeoffs of rapid aiming movements have been proposed since the original information theory hypothesis of Fitts.

Implication. Variations in motor control under changing task constraints with the functional anatomy of these rapid goal-directed aiming movements are predictable. Differences in unimanual aiming task difficulty lead to dissociable activation of cortical-subcortical networks. Further, when more precise targeting is required, independent of task difficulty, a cortical-subcortical loop composed of the contralateral motor cortex, intraparietal sulcus, and caudate is activated. This is consistent with the role of motor cortex for controlling direction of movement on the basis of population encoding.

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