Cortical patterns shift from sequence feature separation during planning to integration during motor execution

Rhys Yewbrey, Myrto Mantziara, Katja Kornysheva

Research output: Working paper/PreprintPreprint


Performing sequences of movements from memory and adapting them to changing task demands is a hallmark of skilled human behaviour, from handwriting to playing a musical instrument. Prior studies showed a fine-grained tuning of cortical primary motor, premotor, and parietal regions to motor sequences – from the low-level specification of individual movements to high-level sequence features like sequence order and timing. However, it is not known how tuning in these regions unfolds dynamically across planning and execution. To address this, we trained 24 healthy right-handed participants to produce four five-element finger press sequences with a particular finger order and timing structure in a delayed sequence production paradigm entirely from memory. Local cortical fMRI patterns during preparation and production phases were extracted from separate ‘No-Go’ and ‘Go’ trials, respectively, to tease out activity related to these peri-movement phases. During sequence planning, premotor and parietal areas increased tuning to movement order and timing, irrespective of their combinations. In contrast, patterns reflecting the unique integration of sequence features emerged in these regions during execution only, alongside timing-specific tuning in the ventral premotor, supplementary motor, and superior parietal areas. This was in line with the participants’ behavioural transfer of trained timing, but not of order to new sequence feature combinations. Our findings suggest a general neural state shift from high-level feature separation to low-level feature integration within cortical regions for movement execution. Recompiling sequence features trial-by-trial during planning may enable flexible last-minute adjustment before movement initiation.
Original languageEnglish
Publication statusPublished - 14 Jul 2022


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