Cerebral cortex (New York, N.Y. : 1991)
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Movements of the upper limb are controlled mostly through the contralateral hemisphere. Although overall activity changes in the ipsilateral motor cortex have been reported, their functional significance remains unclear. Using human functional imaging, we analyzed neural finger representations by studying differences in fine-grained activation patterns for single isometric finger presses. We demonstrate that cortical motor areas encode ipsilateral movements in 2 fundamentally different ways. During unimanual ipsilateral finger presses, primary sensory and motor cortices show, underneath global suppression, finger-specific activity patterns that are nearly identical to those elicited by contralateral mirror-symmetric action. This component vanishes when both motor cortices are functionally engaged during bimanual actions. We suggest that the ipsilateral representation present during unimanual presses arises because otherwise functionally idle circuits are driven by input from the opposite hemisphere. A second type of representation becomes evident in caudal premotor and anterior parietal cortices during bimanual actions. In these regions, ipsilateral actions are represented as nonlinear modulation of activity patterns related to contralateral actions, an encoding scheme that may provide the neural substrate for coordinating bimanual movements. We conclude that ipsilateral cortical representations change their informational content and functional role, depending on the behavioral context.