Dissecting the neurofunctional bases of intentional action

Laura Zapparoli, Silvia Seghezzi, Paola Scifo, Alberto Zerbi, Giuseppe Banfi, Marco Tettamanti, Eraldo Paulesu

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Here we challenge and present evidence that expands the what, when, and whether anatomical model of intentional action, which states that internally driven decisions about the content and timing of our actions and about whether to act at all depend on separable neural systems, anatomically segregated along the medial wall of the frontal lobe. In our fMRI event-related paradigm, subjects acted following conditional cues or following their intentions. The content of the actions, their timing, or their very occurrence were the variables investigated, together with the modulating factor of intentionality. Besides a shared activation of the pre-supplementary motor area (pre-SMA) and anterior cingulate cortex (ACC) for all components and the SMA proper for the when component, we found specific activations beyond the mesial prefrontal wall involving the parietal cortex for the what component or subcortical gray structures for the when component. Moreover, we found behavioral, functional, anatomical, and brain connectivity evidence that the self-driven decisions on whether to act require a higher interhemispheric cooperation: This was indexed by a specific activation of the corpus callosum whereby the less the callosal activation, the greater was the decision cost at the time of the action in the whether trials. Furthermore, tractography confirmed that the fibers passing through the callosal focus of activation connect the two sides of the frontal lobes involved in intentional trials. This is evidence of non-unitary neural foundations for the processes involved in intentional actions with the pre-SMA/ACC operating as an intentional hub. These findings may guide the exploration of specific instances of disturbed intentionality.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)7440-7445
Number of pages6
JournalProceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America
Issue number28
Publication statusPublished - Jul 10 2018


  • DTI
  • FMRI
  • Intentional action
  • Motor control
  • Www-model

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General


Dive into the research topics of 'Dissecting the neurofunctional bases of intentional action'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this