Supplementary motor area activations in unconscious inhibition of voluntary action.
Boy F., Husain M., Singh KD., Sumner P.
It is widely accepted that regions within the dorsal medial frontal cortex are involved in the control of voluntary action. However, recent evidence suggests that a subset of these regions may also be important for unconscious and involuntary motor processes. Indeed, Sumner et al. (Neuron 54:697-711, 2007) showed that two patients with micro-lesions of the supplementary motor area (SMA) and supplementary eye field (SEF) demonstrated an absence of unconscious inhibition as evoked by masked-prime stimuli, while pre-SMA damage had no such effect. Here, we employ fMRI and a similar masked-prime task to test whether SMA and pre-SMA are similarly dissociated in healthy volunteers. Reaction times (RT) revealed that responses to compatible trials were slower than those to incompatible trials (negative compatibility effect, NCE), indicating automatic inhibition in every participant. BOLD signals in the SMA were modulated by prime compatibility, showing greater signal for compatible trials, but there was no change in pre-SMA. There was also no modulation in the hand motor cortex (HMC). These findings imply that the SMA is involved in automatic suppression of manual motor plans.