Journal of Cognitive Neuroscience
Sensorimotor transformations are nonlinear mappings of sensory inputs to motor responses. We explore here the possibility that the responses of single neurons in the parietal cortex serve as basis functions for these transformations. Basis function decomposition is a general method for approximating nonlinear functions that is computationally efficient and well suited for adaptive modification. In particular, the responses of single parietal neurons can be approximated by the product of a Gaussian function of retinal location and a sigmoid function of eye position, called a gain field. A large set of such functions forms a basis set that can be used to perform an arbitrary motor response through a direct projection. We compare this hypothesis with other approaches that are commonly used to model population codes, such as computational maps and vectorial representations. Neither of these alternatives can fully account for the responses of parietal neurons, and they are computationally less efficient for nonlinear transformations. Basis functions also have the advantage of not depending on any coordinate system or reference frame. As a consequence, the position of an object can be represented in multiple reference frames simultaneously, a property consistent with the behavior of hemineglect patients with lesions in the parietal cortex.