The neural systems controlling head movements are not well delineated in humans. It is not clear whether the ipsilateral or contralateral primary motor cortex is involved in turning the head right or left. Furthermore, the exact location of the neck motor area in the somatotopic organization of the motor homunculus is still debated and evidence for contributions from other brain regions in humans is scarce. Because currently available neuroimaging methods are not generally suitable for mapping brain activation patterns during head movements, we conducted fMRI scans during isometric tasks of the head. During isometric tasks, muscle contractions occur without an actual movement and they have been used to delineate patterns of brain activity related to movements of other body parts such as the hands. Healthy individuals were scanned during isometric head rotation or wrist extension. Isometric wrist extension was examined as a positive control and to establish the relative locations of head and hand regions in the motor cortex. Electromyographic recordings of neck and hand muscles during scanning ensured compliance with the tasks. Increased brain activity during isometric head rotation was observed bilaterally in the precentral gyrus, both medial and lateral to the hand area, as well the supplementary motor area, insula, putamen, and cerebellum. These findings clarify the location of the neck region in the motor homunculus and help to reconcile some of the conflicting results obtained in earlier studies.
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