The precentral gyrus of monkeys contains a polysensory zone in which the neurons respond to tactile, visual, and sometimes auditory stimuli. The tactile receptive fields of the polysensory neurons are usually on the face, arms, or upper torso, and the visual and auditory receptive fields are usually confined to the space near the tactile receptive fields, within about 30 cm of the body. Electrical stimulation of this polysensory zone, even in anesthetized animals, evokes a specific set of movements. The movements resemble those typically used to defend the body from objects that are near, approaching, or touching the skin. In the present study, to determine whether the stimulation-evoked movements represent a normal set of defensive movements, we tested whether they include a distinctive, nonsaccadic, centering movement of the eyes that occurs during defensive reactions. We report that this centering movement of the eyes is evoked by stimulation of sites in the polysensory zone. We also recorded the activity of neurons in the polysensory zone while the monkey made defensive reactions to an air puff on the face. The neurons became active during the defensive movement, and the magnitude of this activity was correlated with the magnitude of the defensive reaction. These results support the hypothesis that the polysensory zone in the precentral gyrus contributes to the control of defensive movements. More generally, the results support the view that the precentral gyrus can control movement at the level of complex sensorimotor tasks.
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