Parietal and premotor cortices of the macaque monkey contain distinct populations of neurons which, in addition to their motor discharge, are also activated by visual stimulation. Among these visuomotor neurons, a population of grasping neurons located in the anterior intraparietal area (AIP) shows discharge modulation when the own hand is visible during object grasping. Given the dense connections between AIP and inferior frontal regions, we aimed at investigating whether two hand-related frontal areas, ventral premotor area F5 and primary motor cortex (area F1), contain
neurons with similar properties. Two macaques were involved in a grasping task executed in various light/dark conditions in which the to-be-grasped object was kept visible by a dim retro-illumination. Approximately 62% of F5 and 55% of F1 motor neurons showed light/dark modulations. To better isolate the effect of hand-related visual input, we introduced two further conditions characterized by kinematic features similar to the dark condition. The scene was briefly illuminated (i) during hand preshaping (pre-touch flash, PT-flash) and (ii) at hand-object contact (touch flash, T-flash). Approximately 48% of F5 and 44% of F1 motor neurons showed a flash-related modulation. Considering flash-modulated neurons in the
two flash conditions, 40% fromF5 and 52% fromF1 showed stronger activity in PT- than T-flash (PT-flash-dominant), whereas 60% from F5 and 48% from F1 showed stronger activity in T- than PT-flash (T-flash-dominant). Furthermore, F5, but not F1, flash-dominant neurons were characterized by a higher peak and mean discharge in the preferred flash condition as compared to light and dark conditions. Still considering F5, the distribution of the time of peak discharge was similar in light and preferred flash conditions. This study shows that the frontal cortex contains neurons, previously classified as motor neurons, which are sensitive to the observation of meaningful phases of the own grasping action.We conclude by discussing the
possible functional role of these populations.