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Objects in sight: the neural basis of visuomotor transformations for actions towards objects (BRAINSHAPE)
Start date: Nov 1, 2010, End date: Oct 31, 2015 PROJECT  FINISHED 

Humans and other primates possess an exquisite capacity to grasp and manipulate objects. The seemingly effortless interaction with objects in everyday life is subserved by a number of cortical areas of the visual and the motor system. Recent research has highlighted that dorsal stream areas in the posterior parietal cortex are involved in object processing. Because parietal lesions do not impair object recognition, the encoding of object shape in posterior parietal cortex is considered to be important for the planning of actions towards objects. In order to succesfully grasp an object, the complex pattern of visual information impinging on the retina has to be transformed into a motor plan that can control the muscle contractions. The neural basis of visuomotor transformations necessary for directing actions towards objects, however, has remained largely unknown. This proposal aims to unravel the pathways and mechanisms involved in programming actions towards objects - an essential capacity for our very survival. We envision an integrated approach to study the transformation of visual information into motor commands in the macaque brain, combining functional imaging, single-cell recording, microstimulation and reversible inactivation. Our research efforts will be focussed on parietal area AIP and premotor area F5, two key brain areas for visually-guided grasping. Above all, this proposal will move beyond purely descriptive measurements of neural activity by implementing manipulations of brain activity to reveal behavioral effects and interdependencies of cortical areas. Finally the data obtained in this project will pave the way to use the neural activity recorded in visuomotor areas to act upon the environment by grasping objects by means of a robot hand.
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