Human dorsomedial parieto-motor circuit specifies grasp during the planning of goal-directed hand actions

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According to one influential view, two specialized parieto-frontal circuits control prehension: a dorsomedial stream for hand transport during reaching and a dorsolateral stream for preshaping the fingers during grasping. However, recent evidence argues that an area within the dorsomedial stream–macaque area V6A and, its putative human homolog, superior parietal occipital cortex (SPOC) – encodes both hand transport and grip formation. We tested whether planning varied hand actions modulates functional connectivity between left SPOC and ipsilateral primary motor cortex (M1) using a dual-site, paired-pulse transcranial magnetic stimulation paradigm with two coils (dsTMS). Participants performed three different hand actions to a target object comprising a small cylinder atop a larger cylinder. These actions were: reaching-to-grasp the top (GT) using a precision grip, reaching-to-grasp the bottom (GB) using a whole-hand grip, or reaching-to-touch (Touch) the side of the target object without forming a grip. Motor-evoked potentials (MEPs) from TMS to M1, with or without preceding TMS to SPOC, were recorded from first dorsal interosseous (FDI) and abductor digiti minimi (ADM) hand muscles in two experiments that varied timing parameters (the stimulus onset asynchrony, SOA, between the ‘GO’ cue and stimulation and interpulse interval, IPI, between SPOC and M1 stimulation). We found that preparatory response amplitudes in the SPOC-M1 circuit of different hand muscles were selectively modulated early in the motor plan for different types of grasps. First, based on SPOC-M1 interactions, across two experiments, the role of the ADM was facilitated during a whole-hand grasp of a large object (GB) relative to other conditions under certain timing parameters (SOA = 150 msec; IPI = 6 msec). Second, the role of the FDI was facilitated during hand action planning compared to rest. These findings suggest that the human dorsomedial parieto-motor stream plays a causal role in planning grip formation for object-directed actions.