Local domains of motor cortical activity revealed by fiber-optic calcium recordings in behaving nonhuman primates

PNAS, 2014, doi: 10.1073/pnas.1321612111, vol. 111 no.1, 463–468, published on 07.01.2014
PNAS, online article
Brain mapping experiments involving electrical microstimulation indicate that the primary motor cortex (M1) directly regulates muscle contraction and thereby controls specific movements. Possibly, M1 contains a small circuit “map” of the body that is formed by discrete local networks that code for specific movements. Alternatively, movements may be controlled by distributed, larger-scale overlapping circuits. Because of technical limitations, it remained unclear how movement-determining circuits are organized in M1. Here we introduce a method that allows the functional mapping of small local neuronal circuits in awake behaving nonhuman primates. For this purpose, we combined optic-fiber–based calcium recordings of neuronal activity and cortical microstimulation. The method requires targeted bulk loading of synthetic calcium indicators (e.g., OGB-1 AM) for the staining of neuronal microdomains. The tip of a thin (200 µm) optical fiber can detect the coherent activity of a small cluster of neurons, but is insensitive to the asynchronous activity of individual cells. By combining such optical recordings with microstimulation at two well-separated sites of M1, we demonstrate that local cortical activity was tightly associated with distinct and stereotypical simple movements. Increasing stimulation intensity increased both the amplitude of the movements and the level of neuronal activity. Importantly, the activity remained local, without invading the recording domain of the second optical fiber. Furthermore, there was clear response specificity at the two recording sites in a trained behavioral task. Thus, the results provide support for movement control in M1 by local neuronal clusters that are organized in discrete cortical domains.

TU München
Helmholtz München
MPI of Neurobiology
MPI of Biochemistry