Evidence suggests that the CNS uses motor primitives to simplify movement control, but whether it actually stores primitives instead of computing solutions on the fly to satisfy task demands is a controversial and still-unanswered possibility. Also in contention is whether these primitives take the form of time-invariant muscle coactivations (“spatial” synergies) or time-varying muscle commands (“spatiotemporal” synergies). Here, we examined forelimb muscle patterns and motor cortical spiking data in rhesus macaques (Macaca mulatta) handling objects of variable shape and size. From these data, we extracted both spatiotemporal and spatial synergies using non-negative decomposition. Each spatiotemporal synergy represents a sequence of muscular or neural activations that appeared to recur frequently during the animals’ behavior. Key features of the spatiotemporal synergies (including their dimensionality, timing, and amplitude modulation) were independently observed in the muscular and neural data. In addition, both at the muscular and neural levels, these spatiotemporal synergies could be readily reconstructed as sequential activations of spatial synergies (a subset of those extracted independently from the task data), suggestive of a hierarchical relationship between the two levels of synergies. The possibility that motor cortexmayexecute even complex skill using spatiotemporal synergies has novel implications for the design of neuroprosthetic devices, which could gain computational efficiency by adopting the discrete and low-dimensional control that these primitives imply.
ASJC Scopus subject areas