Researchers uncover 'predictive neuron orchestra' behind looking and reaching movements

January 12, 2016, New York University
neuron
This is a scanning electron micrograph (false color) of a human induced pluripotent stem cell-derived neuron. Credit: Thomas Deerinck, UC San Diego

Different groups of neurons "predict" the body's subsequent looking and reaching movements, suggesting an orchestration among distinct parts of the brain, a team of neuroscientists has found. The study enhances our understanding of the decision-making process, potentially offering insights into different forms of mental illness—afflictions in which this dynamic is typically impaired.

"Identifying which are involved in looking and reaching actions means we can actually see them firing before these decisions are made, offering a crystal ball of sorts into subsequent movements," said Bijan Pesaran, an associate professor at NYU's Center for Neural Science, member of NYU's Institute for the Interdisciplinary Study of Decision Making, and the study's senior author.

It's long been known that selecting and planning actions involve recruiting neurons across many areas of the brain. Specifically, it had been previously established that neurons in the lateral, or side, portion of the brain's intraparietal sulcus (IPS) were active prior to eye movements while neurons on its medial bank fired before .

Less clear, however, is how ensembles of neurons work together to make decisions—such as eyeing a target, then reaching for it.

To address this question in their study, which appears in the journal Nature Neuroscience, the researchers examined different groups of neurons that were active ahead of a decision that involved discrete actions: eye movement and arm movement, or reach. This allowed the scientists to map an array of neuronal activity during two simultaneous actions.

In the study, primates engaged in a series of activities that involved both looking and reaching for different colored targets on a computer screen. During these tasks, the scientists recorded neurological activity in the IPS.

Here, they found "coherent" patterns of spike in activity among groups of neurons in both the lateral and medial regions of the IPS that predicted both eye and reaching movements. Other groups of neurons fired spikes without coherent patterns, and they did not predict the movements. The results, then, offered both a prediction of subsequent actions—based on preceding neuronal activity—and indicated an orchestration between these distinct sets of neurons.

"The timing of the spiking of these populations of neurons indicates they are working together ahead of a decision being made—apparently 'sharing' information before any overt action is taken," observes Pesaran.

Explore further: Eye movement not engaged in arms race, researchers find

More information: Yan T Wong et al. Coherent neuronal ensembles are rapidly recruited when making a look-reach decision, Nature Neuroscience (2016). DOI: 10.1038/nn.4210

Related Stories

Eye movement not engaged in arms race, researchers find

February 28, 2012
We make our eye movements earlier or later in order to coordinate with movements of our arms, New York University neuroscientists have found. Their study, which appears in the journal Neuron, points to a mechanism in the ...

Mental Synthesis experiment could teach us more about our imagination

January 5, 2016
While there is general consensus that the ability to imagine a never-before-seen object or concept is a unique and distinctive human trait, there is little that we know about the neurological mechanism behind it. Neuroscientist ...

New research may prove brain prepares multiple actions before acting

January 11, 2016
The brain prepares multiple available movements before deciding between them, according to findings from Queen's researchers Jason Gallivan and Randy Flanagan.

Using the brain to forecast decisions

September 29, 2014
You're waiting at a bus stop, expecting the bus to arrive any time. You watch the road. Nothing yet. A little later you start to pace. More time passes. "Maybe there is some problem", you think. Finally, you give up and raise ...

Scientists identify a neural circuit involved in translating premotor planning into active movement

February 27, 2015
With half a second's planning, an animal's brain prepares it to quickly and precisely execute complex movements. Scientists at Howard Hughes Medical Institute's Janelia Research Campus have identified a neural circuit that ...

One brain area, two planning strategies

February 26, 2015
Ready to strike, the spear fisherman holds his spear above the water surface. He aims at the fish. But he is misled by the view: Due to the refraction of light on the surface, he does not see the actual location of the fish. ...

Recommended for you

Wiring diagram of the brain provides a clearer picture of brain scan data

December 14, 2018
Already affecting more than five million Americans older than 65, Alzheimer's disease is on the rise and expected to impact more than 13 million people by 2050. Over the last three decades, researchers have relied on neuroimaging—brain ...

Scientists identify method to study resilience to pain

December 14, 2018
Scientists at the Yale School of Medicine and Veterans Affairs Connecticut Healthcare System have successfully demonstrated that it is possible to pinpoint genes that contribute to inter-individual differences in pain.

Parents' brain activity 'echoes' their infant's brain activity when they play together

December 13, 2018
When infants are playing with objects, their early attempts to pay attention to things are accompanied by bursts of high-frequency activity in their brain. But what happens when parents play together with them? New research, ...

In the developing brain, scientists find roots of neuropsychiatric diseases

December 13, 2018
The most comprehensive genomic analysis of the human brain ever undertaken has revealed new insights into the changes it undergoes through development, how it varies among individuals, and the roots of neuropsychiatric illnesses ...

Researchers discover abundant source for neuronal cells

December 13, 2018
USC researchers seeking a way to study genetic activity associated with psychiatric disorders have discovered an abundant source of human cells—the nose.

Researchers find the cause of and cure for brain injury associated with gut condition

December 13, 2018
Using a mouse model of necrotizing enterocolitis (NEC)—a potentially fatal condition that causes a premature infant's gut to suddenly die—researchers at Johns Hopkins say they have uncovered the molecular causes of the ...

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.