A series of recent anatomical and functional data has radically changed our view on the organization of the motor cortex in primates. In the present article we present this view and discuss its fundamental principles. The basic principles are the following: (a) the motor cortex, defined as the agranular frontal cortex, is formed by a mosaic of separate areas, each of which contains an independent body movement representation, (b) each motor area plays a specific role in motor control, based on the specificity of its cortical afferents and descending projections, (c) in analogy to the motor cortex, the posterior parietal cortex is formed by a multiplicity of areas, each of which is involved in the analysis of particular aspects of sensory information. There are no such things as multipurpose areas for space or body schema and (d) the parieto-frontal connections form a series of segregated anatomical circuits devoted to specific sensorimotor transformations. These circuits transform sensory information into action. They represent the basic functional units of the motor system. Although these conclusions mostly derive from monkey experiments, anatomical and brain-imaging evidence suggest that the organization of human motor cortex is based on the same principles. Possible homologies between the motor cortices of humans and non-human primates are discussed.
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