Neural correlates of learning and trajectory planning in the posterior parietal cortex

Elizabeth B. Torres, Rodrigo Quian Quiroga, He Cui, Christopher Buneo

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

31 Scopus citations


The posterior parietal cortex (PPC) is thought to play an important role in the planning of visually-guided reaching movements. However, the relative roles of the various subdivisions of the PPC in this function are still poorly understood. For example, studies of dorsal area 5 point to a representation of reaches in both extrinsic (endpoint) and intrinsic (joint or muscle) coordinates, as evidenced by partial changes in preferred directions and positional discharge with changes in arm posture. In contrast, recent findings suggest that the adjacent medial intraparietal area (MIP) is involved in more abstract representations, e.g. encoding reach target in visual coordinates. Such a representation is suitable for planning reach trajectories involving shortest distance paths to targets straight ahead. However, it is currently unclear how MIP contributes to the planning of other types of trajectories, including those with various degrees of curvature. Such curved trajectories recruit different joint excursions and might help us address whether their representation in the PPC is purely in extrinsic coordinates or in intrinsic ones as well. Here we investigated the role of the PPC in these processes during an obstacle avoidance task for which the animals had not been explicitly trained. We found that PPC planning activity was predictive of both the spatial and temporal aspects of upcoming trajectories. The same PPC neurons predicted the upcoming trajectory in both endpoint and joint coordinates. The predictive power of these neurons remained stable and accurate despite concomitant motor learning across task conditions. These findings suggest the role of the PPC can be extended from specifying abstract movement goals to expressing these plans as corresponding trajectories in both endpoint and joint coordinates. Thus, the PPC appears to contribute to reach planning and approach-avoidance arm motions at multiple levels of representation.

Original languageEnglish (US)
JournalFrontiers in Integrative Neuroscience
Issue numberMAY
StatePublished - May 2 2013
Externally publishedYes

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Sensory Systems
  • Cognitive Neuroscience
  • Cellular and Molecular Neuroscience


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