Voluntary control of behavior implies the ability to select what action is performed. The supplementary motor area (SMA) and pre-SMA are widely considered to be of central importance for this ability because of their role in movement initiation and inhibition. To test this hypothesis, we recorded from neurons in SMA and pre-SMA of monkeys performing an arm countermanding task. Temporal analysis of neural activity and behavior in this task allowed us to test whether neural activity is sufficient to control movement initiation or inhibition. Surprisingly, 99% (242 of 243) of movement-related neurons in SMA and pre-SMA failed to exhibit time-locked activity changes predictive of movement initiation in this task. We also found a second group of neurons that was more active during successful response cancelation. Of these putative inhibitory cells,18%(7 of 40) responded early enough to be able to influence the cancelation of the movement. Thus, when tested with the countermanding task, the SMA/pre-SMA region may play a role in movement inhibition but does not appear to control movement initiation. However, the activity of 76% (202 of 267) of movement-related neurons was contingent on the expectation of reward and 42% of them reflected the amount of expected reward. These findings suggest that the movement-related activity in pre-SMA and SMA might represent the motivation for a specific action but does not determine whether or not that action is performed. This motivational signal in pre-SMA and SMA could provide an essential link between reward expectation and motor execution.
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