Neural correlates of visuomotor associations. Spatial rules compared with arbitrary rules.
Toni I., Rushworth MF., Passingham RE.
A green button may be the target of a movement, or it may instruct the opening of an adjacent door. In the first case, its spatial configuration serves to guide the hand, whereas in the second case its colour allows a decision between alternative courses of action. This study contrasts these two categories of visuomotor transformation. Our goal was to test the hypothesis that visual information can influence the motor system through different, task-dependent pathways. We used positron emission tomography (PET) to measure human brain activity during the performance of two tasks requiring the transformation of visual stimuli to motor responses. The stimuli instructed either a spatially congruent grasping movement or an arbitrarily associated hand movement. The experimental design emphasised preparatory- over movement-related activity. We expected ventral parieto-precentral regions to contribute to the visuomotor transformations underlying grasping movements, and fronto-striatal circuitry to contribute to the selection of actions on the basis of associative rules. We found that selecting between alternative courses of action on the basis of associative rules specifically involved ventral prefrontal, striatal and dorsal precentral areas. Conversely, spatially congruent grasping movements evoked specific differential responses in ventral precentral and parietal regions. The results suggest that visual information can flow through the dorsal system to determine how actions are performed, but that fronto-striatal loops are involved in specifying which action should be performed in the current context.