About the lab

Our research addresses multiple aspects of the visuomotor behaviour in NHPs and humans, with a particular emphasis on the neural representations of reach-to-grasp movements in 3D space, eye-hand coordination and spatial information processing. Another line of research focuses on the anatomical delineation of the underlying cortical and subcortical circuits. Recently, our interests have expanded to include the study of kinematics of arm and hand movements under normal conditions or when transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS) is applied and to the development of decoding algorithms of cortical signals for brain-machine interfaces (BMI).


Featured research (19)

Like in macaque, the caudal portion of the human superior parietal lobule (SPL) plays a key role in a series of perceptive, visuomotor and somatosensory processes. Here, we review the functional properties of three separate portions of the caudal SPL, i.e., the posterior parieto-occipital sulcus (POs), the anterior POs, and the anterior part of the caudal SPL. We propose that the posterior POs is mainly dedicated to the analysis of visual motion cues useful for object motion detection during self-motion and for spatial navigation, while the more anterior parts are implicated in visuomotor control of limb actions. The anterior POs is mainly involved in using the spotlight of attention to guide reach-to-grasp hand movements, especially in dynamic environments. The anterior part of the caudal SPL plays a central role in visually guided locomotion, being implicated in controlling leg-related movements as well as the four limbs interaction with the environment, and in encoding egomotion-compatible optic flow. Together, these functions reveal how the caudal SPL is strongly implicated in skilled visually-guided behaviors.
Perception and action are fundamental processes that characterize our life and our possibility to modify the world around us. Several pieces of evidence have shown an intimate and reciprocal interaction between perception and action, leading us to believe that these processes rely on a common set of representations. The present review focuses on one particular aspect of this interaction: the influence of action on perception from a motor effector perspective during two phases, action planning and the phase following execution of the action. The movements performed by eyes, hands, and legs have a different impact on object and space perception; studies that use different approaches and paradigms have formed an interesting general picture that demonstrates the existence of an action effect on perception, before as well as after its execution. Although the mechanisms of this effect are still being debated, different studies have demonstrated that most of the time this effect pragmatically shapes and primes perception of relevant features of the object or environment which calls for action; at other times it improves our perception through motor experience and learning. Finally, a future perspective is provided, in which we suggest that these mechanisms can be exploited to increase trust in artificial intelligence systems that are able to interact with humans.
In the macaque monkey, area V6A, located in the medial posterior parietal cortex (mPPC), contains cells that encode the spatial position of a reaching target. It has been suggested that during reach planning this information is sent to the frontal cortex along a parieto-frontal pathway that connects V6A-premotor cortex-M1. A similar parieto-frontal network may also exist in the human brain and we aimed here to study the timing of this functional connection during planning of a reaching movement toward different spatial positions. We probed the functional connectivity between human area V6A (hV6A) and the primary motor cortex (M1) using dual-site, paired pulse transcranial magnetic stimulation with a short (4ms) and a longer (10ms) inter-stimulus interval while healthy participants (18 men and 18 women) planned a visually-guided or a memory-guided reaching movement toward positions located at different depths and directions. We found that, when the stimulation over hV6A is sent 4ms before the stimulation over M1, hV6A inhibits motor evoked potentials during planning of either rightward or leftward reaching movements. No modulations were found when the stimulation over hV6A was sent 10ms before the stimulation over M1, suggesting that only short medial parieto-frontal routes are active during reach planning. Moreover, the short route of hV6A-premotor cortex-M1 is active during reach planning irrespectively of the nature (visual or memory) of the reaching target. These results agree with previous neuroimaging studies and provide the first demonstration of the flow of inhibitory signals between hV6A and M1. Significance Statement: All our dexterous movements depend on the correct functioning of network of brain areas. Knowing the functional timing of these networks is useful to gain a deeper understanding of how the brain works to enable accurate arm movements. In this paper, we probed the parieto-frontal network and demonstrated that it takes 4ms for the medial posterior parietal cortex to send inhibitory signals to the frontal cortex during reach planning. This fast flow of information seems not to be dependent on the availability of visual information regarding the reaching target. This study opens the way for future studies to test how this timing could be impaired in different neurological disorders.
A major issue in modern neuroscience is to understand how cell populations present multiple spatial and motor features during goal-directed movements. The direction and distance (depth) of arm movements often appear to be controlled independently during behavior, but it is unknown whether they share neural resources or not. Using information theory, singular value decomposition, and dimensionality reduction methods, we compare direction and depth effects and their convergence across three parietal areas during an arm movement task. All methods show a stronger direction effect during early movement preparation, whereas depth signals prevail during movement execution. Going from anterior to posterior sectors, we report an increased number of cells processing both signals and stronger depth effects. These findings suggest a serial direction and depth processing consistent with behavioral evidence and reveal a gradient of joint versus independent control of these features in parietal cortex that supports its role in sensorimotor transformations.

Lab head

Patrizia Fattori
  • Department of Biomedical Science and Neuromotor Sciences DIBINEM

Members (11)

Claudio Galletti
  • University of Bologna
Rossella Breveglieri
  • University of Bologna
Annalisa Bosco
  • University of Bologna
Michela Gamberini
  • University of Bologna
Kostas Hadjidimitrakis
  • University of Bologna
Matteo Filippini
  • University of Bologna
Stefano Diomedi
  • University of Bologna
Francesco Edoardo Vaccari
  • University of Bologna