The auditory and motor systems are strongly coupled, as is evident in the specifically tight motor synchronization that occurs in response to regularly occurring auditory cues compared with cues of other modalities. Timing of rhythmic action is known to rely on multiple neural centers including the cerebellum and the basal-ganglia which have access to both motor cortical and spinal circuitries. To date, however, there is little information on the motor mechanisms that operate during preparation and execution of rhythmic vs. non-rhythmic movements. We measured acceleration profile and muscle activity while subjects performed tapping movements in response to auditory cues. We found that when tapping at random intervals there was a higher variability of both acceleration profile and muscle activity during motor preparation compared to rhythmic tapping. However, the specific rhythmic context (cued, self-paced, or syncopation) did not affect the motor parameters of the executed taps. Finally, during entrainment we found a gradual as opposed to episodic change in low-level motor parameters (i.e., preparatory muscle activity) that was strongly correlated with changes in high-level parameters (i.e., shift in the reaction time to negative asynchrony). These findings suggest that motor entrainment involves not only adjusting the timing of movement but also modifying parameters that are related to its production. These changes in motor output were insensitive to the specifics of the rhythmic cue: although it took subjects different times to become entrained to different types of rhythmic cues, the motor actions produced once entrainment was obtained were indistinguishable. These findings suggest that motor entrainment involves not only adjusting the timing of movement but also modifying parameters related to its production. The reduced variability of muscle activity during the preparatory period could be one mechanism used by the motor system to enhance the accuracy of motor timing.
Year of publication
Frontiers in Integrative Neuroscience, 10:1