Super-flinchers and nerves of steel: defensive movements altered by chemical manipulation of a cortical motor area
In a restricted zone of the monkey motor cortex, neurons respond to objects near, approaching, or touching the body. This polysensory zone was hypothesized to play a role in monitoring nearby stimuli for the guidance of defensive movements. To test this hypothesis, we chemically manipulated sites within that zone by injecting bicuculline (increasing neuronal activity) or muscimol (decreasing neuronal activity). Bicuculline caused the monkey to react in an exaggerated fashion to an air puff on the face and to objects approaching the face, whereas muscimol caused the monkey to react in a reduced fashion. The effects were expressed partly as a motor abnormality (affecting movement of the musculature contralateral to the injection site) but also partly as a sensory enhancement or sensory neglect (affecting responses to stimuli contralateral to the injection site). These findings suggest that the polysensory zone contributes to the ethologically important function of defense of the body.