Prefrontal involvement in imitation learning of hand actions: Effects of practice and expertise

Stefan Vogt, Giovanni Buccino, Afra M. Wohlschläger, Nicola Canessa, N. Jon Shah, Karl Zilles, Simon B. Eickhoff, Hans Joachim Freund, Giacomo Rizzolatti, Gereon R. Fink

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


In this event-related fMRI study, we demonstrate the effects of a single session of practising configural hand actions (guitar chords) on cortical activations during observation, motor preparation and imitative execution. During the observation of non-practised actions, the mirror neuron system (MNS), consisting of inferior parietal and ventral premotor areas, was more strongly activated than for the practised actions. This finding indicates a strong role of the MNS in the early stages of imitation learning. In addition, the left dorsolateral prefrontal cortex (DLPFC) was selectively involved during observation and motor preparation of the non-practised chords. This finding confirms Buccino et al.'s [Buccino, G., Vogt, S., Ritzl, A., Fink, G.R., Zilles, K., Freund, H.-J., Rizzolatti, G., 2004a. Neural circuits underlying imitation learning of hand actions: an event-related fMRI study. Neuron 42, 323-334] model of imitation learning: for actions that are not yet part of the observer's motor repertoire, DLPFC engages in operations of selection and combination of existing, elementary representations in the MNS. The pattern of prefrontal activations further supports Shallice's [Shallice, T., 2004. The fractionation of supervisory control. In: Gazzaniga, M.S. (Ed.), The Cognitive Neurosciences, Third edition. MIT Press, Cambridge, MA, pp. 943-956] proposal of a dominant role of the left DLPFC in modulating lower level systems and of a dominant role of the right DLPFC in monitoring operations.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1371-1383
Number of pages13
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - Oct 1 2007


  • Action observation
  • Dorsolateral prefrontal cortex
  • Expertise
  • Imitation
  • Mirror neuron system
  • Motor learning

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Cognitive Neuroscience
  • Neurology


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