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Keywords:

  • motor imagery;
  • gait;
  • fMRI;
  • imagery ability;
  • mental chronometry

Motor imagery (MI) is often used in combination with neuroimaging techniques to study the cognitive control of gait. However, imagery ability (IA) varies widely across individuals, potentially influencing the pattern of cerebral recruitment during MI. The aim of the current study was to investigate this effect of IA on the neural correlates of gait control using functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI). Twenty healthy young subjects were subdivided into a good and bad imagers group, on the basis of their performance on two mental chronometry tests. For the whole group, MI activated a bilateral network of areas highly consistent with previous studies, encompassing primary motor cortex (BA 4), supplementary motor area, and other frontal and parietal areas, anterior insula, and cerebellum. Compared to bad imagers, good imagers showed higher activation in the right BA 4, left prefrontal cortex (BA 10), right thalamus, and bilateral cerebellum. Good imagers thus appear better able to recruit motor areas during MI, but also activate a prefrontal executive area (BA 10), which integrates information from the body and the environment and participates in higher-order gait control. These differences were found even though the two groups did not differ in other imagery abilities according to a standard questionnaire for vividness of motor and visual imagery. Future studies on MI should take into account these effects, and control for IA when comparing different populations, using appropriate measures. A better understanding of the neural mechanisms that underlie MI ability is crucial to accurately evaluate locomotor skills in clinical measures and neurorehabilitation techniques. Hum Brain Mapp 35:455–470, 2014. © 2012 Wiley Periodicals, Inc.