Premotor Cortex Function & Location: What Does the Premotor Cortex Do?

Joanna Tatomir, Sharon Linde
  • Author
    Joanna Tatomir

    Joanna holds a PhD in Biology from the University of Michigan and is currently working towards a degree in Veterinary Medicine at Michigan State University. She has taught a combination of ESL and STEM courses to secondary and university students.

  • Instructor
    Sharon Linde

    Sharon has an Masters of Science in Mathematics and a Masters in Education

Learn about the premotor cortex. View a diagram of the premotor area, study the structure of the supplementary motor cortex, and identify premotor cortex functions. Updated: 01/29/2022

What Is the Premotor Cortex?

The human brain is an extremely complex organ associated with the central nervous system, which controls all of the major functions in the body. The brain is divided into different lobes that are responsible for distinct functions, such as vision, hearing, memory, behavior, and emotion. In addition to these lobes, the brain is also arranged into layers, including the cerebral cortex, or the outermost layer which consists of a dense network of nerve cells. The cortex also contains several areas devoted to different functions.

One important region of the cerebral cortex is the motor cortex. The motor cortex is responsible for the control of movement in the human body. Whenever an individual walks, runs, dances, or jumps, the motor cortex provides the muscle control needed for these actions to occur. The motor cortex consists of three regions: the primary motor cortex, the premotor cortex, and the supplementary motor area. All three components of the motor cortex form a saddle over the middle portion of the left and right hemispheres of the brain.

The premotor cortex works in conjunction with the primary motor cortex and the supplementary motor area in order to coordinate the complex movements of the human body. In this lesson, the premotor cortex will be explored as a component of the larger motor cortex, in addition to its integration with the primary motor cortex and supplementary motor area.

The Amazing Brain

We know our brains are responsible for how smart we are and how well we do in school. Do you ever think about how much else your brain does? Every move you make, from involuntary functions, like blinking your eye, to voluntary ones, like watching this video, is conducted by the brain.

Scientists now know that different regions of the brain are responsible for different jobs; from the speech center to the motor center. All regions of the brain are amazing machines that rarely take a break. The premotor cortex is the region we'll focus on in this lesson.

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Where Is the Premotor Area?

As mentioned earlier, the brain is divided into four sections - the frontal, parietal, temporal, and occipital lobes. The front half of the brain is distinguished from the rear half of the brain by the central sulcus, a groove that serves as a border between the frontal and parietal lobes. The motor cortex is located just in front of the central sulcus. Extending from the border between the frontal and temporal lobes on each side of the brain, the motor cortex runs like a saddle over the middle section of the cerebral cortex.


The lobes of the brain.

Premotor area; premotor cortex function


The primary motor cortex is located just anterior to the central sulcus. The premotor cortex is then found just anterior to the primary motor cortex and is separated in the center by a small region known as the supplemental motor area. The primary motor cortex possesses a fascinating structure, in that different regions of the primary motor cortex are mapped to different parts of the body. Therefore, when different parts of the primary motor cortex are electrically stimulated, the parts of the body associated with each sub region will move.


Somatomapping of the body to the primary motor cortex.

premotor area


The coordination of these movements is controlled by a variety of neural pathways descending from the primary motor cortex, traveling through the brain stem, and entering into the spinal cord. From there, different spinal nerves emerge from specific vertebra to innervate the various muscles of the body.

Hence, the motor cortex is involved in the overall control of voluntary motor movements, or movements under the conscious control of the individual. By contrast, the premotor cortex helps to decide upon the specific sequence of neuronal stimulation and muscles needed to carry out the movement based on visual stimuli. Then the supplemental motor area helps to program the specific order of movements needed to complete an action based on memory.


The location of the motor cortex, containing the premotor cortex and the supplemental motor area.

premotor area


Structure of the Premotor Cortex

The premotor cortex is connected to the primary motor cortex and the spinal cord via axons. Axons represent parts of neurons that carry electrical impulses between nerve cells. When signals are sent from the premotor cortex to the spinal nerves, these impulses first pass through the motor thalamus, a region of the brain that helps to relay signals from the motor cortex to the basal ganglia. Prior to entering the basal ganglia, these impulses then travel through the striatum, the main neural input region for the basal ganglia, an area of the brain that works with the motor cortex to coordinate voluntary movement in humans.

In earlier models of the motor cortex, the premotor cortex was divided into two areas, the lateral and medial sections. The lateral area is now referred to as the premotor cortex itself, while the medial region is known as the supplemental motor cortex (or supplemental motor area). The premotor cortex is now believed to function as the processing center for voluntary movements, using a combination of external cues such as vision and balance to decide upon the specific muscles to activate in order for an action to be carried out.

Controlling Movement

Every move the body makes is due to the brain's ability to send signals to the right muscles. All of this happens in a part of the brain called the motor cortex region. The motor cortex has three main parts that each have their own job - the primary motor cortex, the supplementary motor area, and the premotor cortex. The motor region controls all voluntary movements, from planning them to carrying them out. Swinging a baseball bat, typing on the computer, or drinking water are all controlled in the motor cortex region.

Three areas of the primary motor cortex are seen here
motor region

The premotor cortex is located just in front of the primary motor cortex in the brain. Its job is to prepare the body's muscles for the exact movements the will make. In other words, it helps you control your movements. This morning you got up and dressed. You brushed your teeth and combed your hair. The premotor cortex allowed you to make choices about these movements. You squeezed toothpaste onto your toothbrush and not lotion due to the premotor cortex. It uses information provided by your senses, like seeing the toothpaste tube, to guide decisions.

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Video Transcript

The Amazing Brain

We know our brains are responsible for how smart we are and how well we do in school. Do you ever think about how much else your brain does? Every move you make, from involuntary functions, like blinking your eye, to voluntary ones, like watching this video, is conducted by the brain.

Scientists now know that different regions of the brain are responsible for different jobs; from the speech center to the motor center. All regions of the brain are amazing machines that rarely take a break. The premotor cortex is the region we'll focus on in this lesson.

Controlling Movement

Every move the body makes is due to the brain's ability to send signals to the right muscles. All of this happens in a part of the brain called the motor cortex region. The motor cortex has three main parts that each have their own job - the primary motor cortex, the supplementary motor area, and the premotor cortex. The motor region controls all voluntary movements, from planning them to carrying them out. Swinging a baseball bat, typing on the computer, or drinking water are all controlled in the motor cortex region.

Three areas of the primary motor cortex are seen here
motor region

The premotor cortex is located just in front of the primary motor cortex in the brain. Its job is to prepare the body's muscles for the exact movements the will make. In other words, it helps you control your movements. This morning you got up and dressed. You brushed your teeth and combed your hair. The premotor cortex allowed you to make choices about these movements. You squeezed toothpaste onto your toothbrush and not lotion due to the premotor cortex. It uses information provided by your senses, like seeing the toothpaste tube, to guide decisions.

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Frequently Asked Questions

How does the premotor cortex communicate with the primary motor cortex?

The premotor cortex is connected to the primary motor cortex and the spinal cord via axons. Axons help to carry signals, or impulses, between nerve cells.

What is the function of the premotor cortex?

The premotor cortex works in conjunction with the primary motor cortex and the supplemental motor area to help control voluntary movement in humans. The premotor cortex specifically utilizes external cues to help determine the specific muscles needed for an action to take place.

Which hemisphere is premotor cortex in?

The premotor cortex represents one of the three regions of the motor cortex. The premotor cortex stretches from the left hemisphere to the right hemisphere of the brain and is located just anterior to the primary motor cortex.

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