Abstract: Learned movements can be skillfully performed at different paces. What neural strategies produce this flexibility? Can they be predicted and understood by network modeling? We trained monkeys to perform a cycling task at different speeds, and trained artificial recurrent networks to generate the empirical muscle-activity patterns. Network solutions reflected the principle that smooth well-behaved dynamics require low trajectory tangling. Network solutions had a consistent form, which yielded quantitative and qualitative predictions. To evaluate predictions, we analyzed motor cortex activity recorded during the same task. Responses supported the hypothesis that the dominant neural signals reflect not muscle activity, but network-level strategies for generating muscle activity. Single-neuron responses were better accounted for by network activity than by muscle activity. Similarly, neural population trajectories shared their organization not with muscle trajectories, but with network solutions. Thus, cortical activity could be understood based on the need to generate muscle activity via dynamics that allow smooth, robust control over movement speed.
Authors: Shreya Saxena, Abigail A Russo, John Cunningham, Mark M Churchland