We compared set-related premotor cortex activity in two conditional motor tasks. In both tasks, a rhesus monkey moved its forelimb to one of two possible targets on the basis of visuospatial instruction stimuli. One target was located to the left of the limb's starting position, the other to the right. In the directional task, a white light situated within the target provided the instruction. In the arbitrary task, colored instruction stimuli equidistant from the targets established an arbitrary relationship between stimulus and response. One hypothesis about set-related premotor cortex activity is that it contributes to the preparation for limb movement on the basis of sensory instruction stimuli. If set-related activity differed profoundly in the arbitrary and directional tasks, then that hypothesis would be untenable. Out of 403 task-related premotor cortex neurons in two monkeys, 130 neurons showed set-related activity, and we studied 118 cells in detail. The vast majority (81%) of these 118 neurons showed no significant difference between the two tasks in set-related activity. When set-related activity did differ, the greatest activity usually occurred after arbitrary instructions; the opposite being the case for only 5% of our sample. Differences in activity during the two tasks, even when statistically significant, were generally small. The present results accord with the hypothesis that set-related premotor cortex activity reflects aspects of motor preparation.
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