The precise control of bite force and gape is vital for effective breakdown and manipulation of food inside the oral cavity during feeding. Yet the role of the orofacial sensorimotor cortex (OSMcx) in the control of bite force and gape is still largely unknown. The aim of this study was to elucidate how individual neurons and populations of neurons in multiple regions of OSMcx differentially encode bite force and gape when subjects (Macaca mulatta) generated different levels of bite force at varying gapes. We examined neuronal activity recorded simultaneously from three microelectrode arrays implanted chronically in the primary motor (MIo), primary somatosensory (SIo), and cortical masticatory (CMA) areas of OSMcx. We used generalized linear models to evaluate encoding properties of individual neurons and utilized dimensionality reduction techniques to decompose population activity into components related to specific task parameters. Individual neurons encoded bite force more strongly than gape in all three OSMCx areas although bite force was a better predictor of spiking activity in MIo versus SIo. Population activity differentiated between levels of bite force and gape while preserving task-independent temporal modulation across the behavioral trial. While activation patterns of neuronal populations were comparable across OSMCx areas, the total variance explained by task parameters was context-dependent and differed across areas. These findings suggest that the cortical control of gape may rely on computations at the population level whereas the strong encoding of bite force at the individual neuron level allows for the precise and rapid control of bite force.
bioRxiv Subject Collection: Neuroscience