Neuronal activity in the primate motor thalamus during visually triggered and internally generated limb movements

P. Van Donkelaar*, J. F. Stein, R. E. Passingham, R. C. Miall

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

79 Citations (Scopus)


Single-unit recordings were made from the basal-ganglia- and cerebellar- receiving areas of the thalamus in two monkeys trained to make arm movements that were either visually triggered (VT) or internally generated (IG). A total of 203 neurons displaying movement-related changes in activity were examined in detail. Most of these cells (69%) showed an increase in firing rate in relation to the onset of movement and could be categorized according to whether they fired in the VT task exclusively, in the IG task exclusively, or in both tasks. The proportion of cells in each category was found to vary between each of the cerebellar-receiving [oral portion of the ventral posterolateral nucleus (VPLo) and area X] and basal-ganglia-receiving [oral portion of the ventral lateral nucleus (VLo) and parvocellular portion of the ventral anterior nucleus (VApc)] nuclei that were examined. In particular, in area X the largest group of cells (52%) showed an increase in activity during the VT task only, whereas in VApc the largest group of cells (53%) fired in the IG task only. In contrast to this, relatively high degree of task specificity, in both VPLo and VLo the largest group of cells (~55%) burst in relation to both tasks. Of the cells that were active in both tasks, a higher proportion were preferentially active in the VT task in VPLo and area X, and the IG task in VLo and VApc. In addition, cells in all four nuclei became active earlier relative to movement onset in the IG task compared with the VT task. These results demonstrate that functional distinctions do exist in the cerebellar- and basal-ganglia-receiving portions of the primate motor thalamus in relation to the types of cues used to initiate and control movement. These distinctions are most clear in area X and VApc, and are much less apparent in VPLo and VLo.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)934-945
Number of pages12
JournalJournal of Neurophysiology
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jan 1999

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Neuroscience
  • Physiology


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