Early motor influences on visuomotor transformations for reaching: A positive image of optic ataxia

Alexandra Battaglia Mayer, Stefano Ferraina, Barbara Marconi, James B. Bullis, Francesco Lacquaniti, Yves Burnod, Pierre Baraduc, Roberto Caminiti

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Coding of reaching in the cerebral cortex is based on the operation of distributed populations of parietal and frontal neurons, whose main functional characteristics reside in their combinatorial power, i.e., in the capacity for combining different information related to the spatial aspects of reaching. The tangential distribution of reach-related neurons endowed with different functional properties changes gradually in the cortex and defines, in the parieto-frontal network, trends of functional properties. These visual-to-somatic gradients imply the existence of cortical regions of functional overlaps, i.e., of combinatorial domains, where the integration of different reach-related signals occurs. Studies of early coding of reaching in the mesial parietal areas show how somatomotor information, such as that related to arm posture and movement, influences neuronal activity in the very early stages of the visuomotor transformation underlying the composition of the motor command and is not added 'downstream' in the frontal cortex. This influence is probably due to re-entrant signals traveling through fronto-parietal-association connections. Together with the gradient architecture of the network and the reciprocity of cortico-cortical connections, this implies that coding of reaching cannot be regarded as a top-down, serial sequence of coordinate transformation, each performed by a given cortical area, but as a recursive process, where different signals are progressively matched and further elaborated locally, due to intrinsic cortical connections. This model of reaching is also supported by psychophysical studies stressing the parallel processing of the different relevant parameters and the 'hybrid' nature of the reference frame where they are combined. The theoretical frame presented here can also offer a background for a new interpretation of a well-known visuomotor disorder, due to superior parietal lesions, i.e., optic ataxia. More than a disconnection syndrome, this can now be interpreted as the consequence of the breakdown of the operations occurring in the combinatorial domains of the superior parietal segment of the parieto-frontal network.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)172-189
Number of pages18
JournalExperimental Brain Research
Issue number1-2
Publication statusPublished - 1998


  • Combinatorial domain
  • Fronto-parietal network
  • Optic ataxia
  • Reaching
  • Visuomotor transformations

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Neuroscience(all)


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