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Modulation of premotor mirror neuron activity during observation of unpredictable grasping movements

Authors

  • Massimo Gangitano,

    1. Laboratory for Magnetic Brain Stimulation, Division of Behavioural Neurology, Department of Neurology, Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, Harvard Medical School, 330 Brookline Ave., Boston, MA 02215, USA
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    • *

      Present address: Dipartimento di Neurologia, Oftalmologia, Otorinolaringoiatria e Psichiatria, Unità di Neurologia e Riabilitazione Neurologica, Università degli Studi di Palermo, Italy.

  • Felix M. Mottaghy,

    1. Laboratory for Magnetic Brain Stimulation, Division of Behavioural Neurology, Department of Neurology, Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, Harvard Medical School, 330 Brookline Ave., Boston, MA 02215, USA
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    • Present address: Department of Nuclear Medicine (Radiology III), University Hospital Ulm, Germany.

  • Alvaro Pascual-Leone

    1. Laboratory for Magnetic Brain Stimulation, Division of Behavioural Neurology, Department of Neurology, Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, Harvard Medical School, 330 Brookline Ave., Boston, MA 02215, USA
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Dr A. Pascual-Leone, as above.
E-mail: apleone@caregroup.harvard.edu

Abstract

Using transcranial magnetic stimulation, we explored the properties of premotor mirror neurons during the passive observation of a reaching–grasping movement in human subjects. Two different experiments were run using video-clips as visual stimuli. Video-clips showed a normally performed (control stimulus) or an anomalous reaching–grasping movement executed by delaying the time of the appearance of the maximal finger aperture (experiment 1), or substituting it with an unpredictable closure (experiment 2). Motor evoked potentials were recorded at different time-points during the observation of the video-clips. Profiles of cortical excitability were drawn and compared with the kinematic profiles of the corresponding movement. Passive observation of the natural movement evoked a profile of cortical excitability that is in concordance with the timing of the kinematic profile of the shown finger movements. Observation of the uncommon movements did not exert any modulation (experiment 1) or evoked an activity that matched, at the beginning, the modulation obtained with observation of the natural movement (experiment 2). Results show that the resonant motor plan is loaded as whole at the beginning of observation and once started tends to proceed to its completion regardless of changes to the visual cues. The results exclude the possibility of a temporal fragmentation of the resonant plan, because activation of different populations of mirror neurons for each phase of the ongoing action. They further support the notion of the role of the mirror system as neural substrate for the observing–execution matching system and extend the current knowledge regarding mechanisms that trigger the internal representation of an action.

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