Motor Cortex - Early Work On The Motor Cortex

Early Work On The Motor Cortex

In 1870 Eduard Hitzig and Gustav Fritsch demonstrated that electrical stimulation of certain parts of the dog brain resulted in muscular contraction on the opposite side of the body.

A little later, in 1874, David Ferrier, working in the laboratory of the West Riding Lunatic Asylum at Wakefield (at the invitation of its director, James Crichton-Browne), mapped the motor cortex in the monkey brain using electrical stimulation. He found that the motor cortex contained a rough map of the body with the feet at the top (or dorsal part) of the brain and the face at the bottom (or ventral part) of the brain. He also found that when electrical stimulation was maintained for a longer time, such as for a second, instead of being discharged over a fraction of a second, then some coordinated, seemingly meaningful movements could be caused, instead of only muscle twitches.

After Ferrier's discovery, many neuroscientists used electrical stimulation to study the map of the motor cortex in many animals including monkeys, apes, and humans.

One of the first detailed maps of the human motor cortex was described in 1905 by Campbell. He did autopsies on the brains of amputees. A person who had lost an arm would over time apparently lose some of the neuronal mass in the part of the motor cortex that normally controls the arm. Likewise, a person who had lost a leg would show degeneration in the leg part of motor cortex. In this way the motor map could be established. In the period between 1919 and 1936 others mapped the motor cortex in detail using electrical stimulation, including the husband and wife team Vogt and Vogt, and the neurosurgeon Foerster.

Perhaps the best-known experiments on the human motor map were published by Penfield in 1937. Using a procedure that was common in the 1930s, he examined epileptic patients who were undergoing brain surgery. These patients were given a local anesthetic, their skulls were opened, and their brains exposed. Then, electrical stimulation was applied to the surface of the brain to map out the speech areas. In this way, the surgeon would be able to avoid any damage to speech circuitry. The brain focus of the epilepsy could then be surgically removed. During this procedure, Penfield mapped the effect of electrical stimulation in all parts of the cerebral cortex, including motor cortex.

Penfield is sometimes mistakenly considered to be the discoverer of the map in motor cortex. It was discovered approximately 70 years before his work. However, Penfield drew a picture of a little man stretched over the cortical surface and used the term "homunculus" to refer to it. Perhaps for these reasons his work has become iconic in neuroscience.

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