Each of us performs thousands of actions during the course of daily tasks, ranging from relatively simple (e.g. clicking on a mouse button), to highly complex (e.g. holding a sheet of paper in one hand while using scissors to cut it in a straight line with the other). All of these actions involve an intricate interplay between sensory integration, muscle coordination, and movement evaluation processes. Motor cortical activity in the beta frequency range (13-30Hz) is a hallmark signature of healthy and pathological movement, but its behavioral relevance remains unclear. Recently, it has become apparent that oscillatory beta activity actually occurs in discrete, transient bursts, and that short-lasting, high-powered bursts of activity only appear to be sustained oscillations when averaged over multiple trials. This renders previous theories of beta activity’s functional relevance, which involve slow changes of oscillatory power, untenable. However, this insight provides an exciting opportunity to examine beta activity on a trial-by-trial basis and directly relate it to forthcoming and ongoing motor behavior. Here, I propose a new theory for understanding motor-related beta activity that has the potential to overturn current thinking of the motor role of beta. The proposed project will build upon my recent research and use a multi-modal (electrophysiological recordings, non-invasive neuroimaging, and computational modeling), multi-scale (from cortical columns to multi-region networks), comparative (monkey and human), and developmental (longitudinal measures of human infants) approach to develop and test this theory. Not only will results from this project substantially extend our knowledge on the role of motor-related beta activity, they will have important implications for personalized, online treatments for pathophysiological disorders characterized by aberrant beta signaling.
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