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Ipsilateral motor cortex activity during unimanual hand movements relates to task complexity.
Functional imaging studies have revealed recruitment of ipsilateral motor areas during the production of sequential unimanual finger movements. This phenomenon is more prominent in the left hemisphere during left-hand movements than in the right hemisphere during right-hand movements. Here we investigate whether this lateralization pattern is related specifically to the sequential structure of the unimanual action or generalizes to other complex movements. Using event-related fMRI, we measured activation changes in the motor cortex during three types of unimanual movements: repetitions of a sequence of movements with multiple fingers, repetitive "chords" composed of three simultaneous key presses, and simple repetitive tapping movements with a single finger. During sequence and chord movements, strong ipsilateral activation was observed and was especially pronounced in the left hemisphere during left-hand movements. This pattern was evident for both right-handed and, to a lesser degree, left-handed individuals. Ipsilateral activation was less pronounced in the tapping condition. The site of ipsilateral activation was shifted laterally, ventrally, and anteriorly with respect to that observed during contralateral movements and the time course of activation implied a role in the execution rather than planning of the movement. A control experiment revealed that strong ipsilateral activity in left motor cortex is specific to complex movements and does not depend on the number of required muscles. These findings indicate a prominent role of left hemisphere in the execution of complex movements independent of the sequential nature of the task.