PLoS One 2009 Oct 22;4(10):e7557. Epub 2009 Oct 22.
Motor Performance Laboratory, Department of Neurology, Columbia University, New York, New York, United States of America.
Background: Human movement can be guided automatically (implicit control) or attentively (explicit control). Explicit control may be engaged when learning a new movement, while implicit control enables simultaneous execution of multiple actions. Explicit and implicit control can often be assigned arbitrarily: we can simultaneously drive a car and tune the radio, seamlessly allocating implicit or explicit control to either action. This flexibility suggests that sensorimotor signals, including those that encode spatially overlapping perception and behavior, can be accurately segregated to explicit and implicit control processes.
Methodology/principal Findings: We tested human subjects' ability to segregate sensorimotor signals to parallel control processes by requiring dual (explicit and implicit) control of the same reaching movement and testing for interference between these processes. Healthy control subjects were able to engage dual explicit and implicit motor control without degradation of performance compared to explicit or implicit control alone. We then asked whether segregation of explicit and implicit motor control can be selectively disrupted by studying dual-control performance in subjects with no clinically manifest neurologic deficits in the presymptomatic stage of Huntington's disease (HD). These subjects performed successfully under either explicit or implicit control alone, but were impaired in the dual-control condition.
Conclusion/significance: The human nervous system can exert dual control on a single action, and is therefore able to accurately segregate sensorimotor signals to explicit and implicit control. The impairment observed in the presymptomatic stage of HD points to a possible crucial contribution of the striatum to the segregation of sensorimotor signals to multiple control processes.