Representation of goal and movements without overt motor behavior in the human motor cortex: A transcranial magnetic stimulation study

Luigi Cattaneo, Fausto Caruana, Ahmad Jezzini, Giacomo Rizzolatti

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

124 Scopus citations

Abstract

We recorded motor-evoked potentials (MEPs) to transcranial magnetic stimulation from the right opponens pollicis (OP) muscle while participants observed an experimenter operating two types of pliers: pliers opened by the extension of the fingers and closed by their flexion ("normal pliers") and pliers opened by the flexion of the fingers and closed by their extension ("reverse pliers"). In one experimental condition, the experimenter merelyopenedandclosed the pliers; in the other, he graspedanobject with them. In a further condition, the participants imagined themselves operating the normal and reverse pliers. During the observation of actions devoid of a goal, the MEP amplitudes, regardless of pliers used, reflected themuscularpattern involved in the execution of theobservedaction. In contrast, during the observation of goal-directed actions, the MEPs from OP were modulated by the action goal, increasing during goal achievement despite the opposite hand movements necessary to obtain it. During motor imagery, the MEPs recorded from OP reflected the muscular pattern required to perform the imagined action. We propose that covert activity in the human motor cortex may reflect different aspects of motor behavior. Imagining oneself performing tool actions or observing tool actions devoid of a goal activates the representation of the hand movements that correspond to the observed ones. In contrast, the observation of tool actions with a goal incorporates the distal part of the tool in the observer's body schema, resulting in a higher-order representation of the meaning of the motor act.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)11134-11138
Number of pages5
JournalJournal of Neuroscience
Volume29
Issue number36
DOIs
StatePublished - Sep 9 2009

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