A synergy-based hand control is encoded in human motor cortical areas

Andrea Leo, Giacomo Handjaras, Matteo Bianchi, Hamal Marino, Marco Gabiccini, Andrea Guidi, Enzo Pasquale Scilingo, Pietro Pietrini, Antonio Bicchi, Marco Santello, Emiliano Ricciardi

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

78 Scopus citations


How the human brain controls hand movements to carry out different tasks is still debated. The concept of synergy has been proposed to indicate functional modules that may simplify the control of hand postures by simultaneously recruiting sets of muscles and joints. However, whether and to what extent synergic hand postures are encoded as such at a cortical level remains unknown. Here, we combined kinematic, electromyography, and brain activity measures obtained by functional magnetic resonance imaging while subjects performed a variety of movements towards virtual objects. Hand postural information, encoded through kinematic synergies, were represented in cortical areas devoted to hand motor control and successfully discriminated individual grasping movements, significantly outperforming alternative somatotopic or muscle-based models. Importantly, hand postural synergies were predicted by neural activation patterns within primary motor cortex. These findings support a novel cortical organization for hand movement control and open potential applications for brain-computer interfaces and neuroprostheses.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numbere13420
Issue numberFEBRUARY2016
StatePublished - Feb 15 2016

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Immunology and Microbiology
  • General Biochemistry, Genetics and Molecular Biology
  • General Neuroscience


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