Motoneuron firing in amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS)
The firing rates of neurons in primate motor cortex have been related to multiple parameters of voluntary movement. This finding has been corroborated by stimulation-based studies that have mapped complex movements in rodent and primate motor cortex. However, it has been difficult to link the movement tuning of a neuron with its role within the cortical microcircuit. In sensory cortex, neuronal tuning is largely established by afferents delivering information from tuned receptors in the periphery. Motor cortex, which lacks the granular input layer, may be better understood by analyzing its efferent projections. As a primary source of cortical output, layer 5 neurons represent an ideal starting point for this line of experimentation. It is in these deep output layers that movements can most effectively be evoked by intracortical microstimulation and recordings can obtain the most useful signals for the control of motor prostheses. Studies focused on layer 5 output neurons have revealed that projection identity is a fundamental property related to the laminar position, receptive field and ion channel complement of these cells. Given the variety of brain areas targeted by layer 5 output neurons, knowledge of a neuron's downstream connectivity may provide insight into its movement tuning. Future experiments that relate motor behavior to the activity of neurons with a known projection identity will yield a more detailed understanding of the function of cortical microcircuits.