The comparable size and overlapping nature of upper limb distal and proximal muscle representations in the human motor cortex

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Abstract

The purpose of this study was to determine the relative size and location of proximal and distal upper limb muscle representations in the human motor cortex. Motor-evoked potentials (MEPs) evoked by transcranial magnetic stimulation were recorded in the proximal muscle anterior deltoid (AD) and in the distal muscles extensor carpi radialis (ECR) and first dorsal interosseus (1DI). The coil was moved in steps of 1 cm along a grid drawn on a tight-fitting polyester cap placed on the subject's head. At each location, four stimuli were delivered at 1.2 times the active motor threshold (AMT), and MEPs averaged in real-time. The peak-to-peak amplitude of each muscle's mean MEP was measured at each stimulation site. The area of a muscle's representation was measured by a pixel-counting algorithm. The optimal point of each muscle's areal representation, which corresponds to the locus near which the largest MEPs are obtained, was determined by fitting a 3D Lorentzian function to the data points. The optimal point of distal muscles tended to be situated more laterally along the motor strip than that of proximal muscles. However, there was no statistically significant difference between the size of the areal representations and they overlapped considerably. Additionally, in another five subjects, using a small 45-mm coil placed in a hyper-focal orientation, maps were obtained at a stimulus intensity of 1.1–1.15 times the AMT of the muscle with the lowest threshold, usually the 1DI. Even in this very stringent condition, the mapped representations of the AD, ECR and 1DI overlapped, notwithstanding that sharp demarcations between borders were also apparent. These observations demonstrate that stimulus spread alone does not explain the overlap of muscle representations. These results show that commonly used proximal and distal upper-limb muscles, taken individually, are controlled by motor cortical territories of approximately equal size that significantly overlap despite differences in the location of their optimal points.

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