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Keywords:

  • fMRI;
  • mirror neuron system;
  • motor imagery;
  • neurorehabilitation;
  • virtual reality

Abstract

The Rehabilitation Gaming System (RGS) has been designed as a flexible, virtual-reality (VR)-based device for rehabilitation of neurological patients. Recently, training of visuomotor processing with the RGS was shown to effectively improve arm function in acute and chronic stroke patients. It is assumed that the VR-based training protocol related to RGS creates conditions that aid recovery by virtue of the human mirror neuron system. Here, we provide evidence for this assumption by identifying the brain areas involved in controlling the catching of approaching colored balls in the virtual environment of the RGS. We used functional magnetic resonance imaging of 18 right-handed healthy subjects (24 ± 3 years) in both active and imagination conditions. We observed that the imagery of target catching was related to activation of frontal, parietal, temporal, cingulate and cerebellar regions. We interpret these activations in relation to object processing, attention, mirror mechanisms, and motor intention. Active catching followed an anticipatory mode, and resulted in significantly less activity in the motor control areas. Our results provide preliminary support for the hypothesis underlying RGS that this novel neurorehabilitation approach engages human mirror mechanisms that can be employed for visuomotor training.