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Keywords:

  • action;
  • mirror neurons;
  • motor;
  • somatotopy;
  • space

Abstract

The general view on the functional role of the monkey inferior parietal lobule (IPL) convexity mainly derives from studies carried out more than two decades ago and does not account for the functional complexity suggested by more recent neuroanatomical findings. We investigated this issue by recording multi- and single units in the IPL convexity of two monkeys and characterizing their somatosensory, visual and motor responses, using a naturalistic (ethologically relevant) approach. These properties were then matched with IPL cytoarchitectonic parcellation. A further aim of this study was to describe the general properties and the localization of IPL mirror neurons, until now not investigated in detail. Results showed that each studied cytoarchitectonic subdivision of the IPL (PF, PFG, PG) is characterized by specific sensory and motor properties. A key feature of the recorded motor neurons is that of coding goal-directed motor acts. Motor responses are somatotopically organized in a rostro-caudal fashion, with mouth, hand and arm represented in PF, PFG and PG, respectively, with a certain degree of overlap between adjacent representations. In each subdivision the motor activity is associated with specific somatosensory and visual responses, suggesting that each area organizes motor acts in different space sectors. Mirror neurons have been found mainly in area PFG and their general features appear to be very similar to those of ventral premotor mirror neurons. The present data suggest that the IPL plays an important role in both action organization and action understanding and should be considered part of the motor system.