Control of digit forces for grasping relies on sensorimotor memory gained from prior experience with the same or similar objects and on online sensory feedback. However, little is known about neural mechanisms underlying digit force planning. We addressed this question by quantifying the temporal evolution of corticospinal excitability (CSE) using single-pulse transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS) during two reach-to-grasp tasks. These tasks differed in terms of the magnitude of force exerted on the same points on the object to isolate digit force planning from reach and grasp planning. We also addressed the role of intracortical circuitry within primary motor cortex (M1) by quantifying the balance between short intracortical inhibition and facilitation using paired-pulse TMS on the same tasks. Eighteen right-handed subjects were visually cued to plan digit placement at predetermined locations on the object and subsequently to exert either negligible force ("low-force" task, LF) or 10% of their maximum pinch force ("high-force" task, HF) on the object. We found that the HF task elicited significantly smaller CSE than the LF task, but only when the TMS pulse coincided with the signal to initiate the reach. This force planning-related CSE modulation was specific to the muscles involved in the performance of both tasks. Interestingly, digit force planning did not result in modulation of M1 intracortical inhibitory and facilitatory circuitry. Our findings suggest that planning of digit forces reflected by CSE modulation starts well before object contact and appears to be driven by inputs from frontoparietal areas other than M1.
ASJC Scopus subject areas