Representation of actions in rats: The role of cerebellum in learning spatial performances by observation

Maria G. Leggio, Marco Molinari, Paola Neri, Alessandro Graziano, Laura Mandolesi, Laura Petrosini

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Experimental evidence demonstrates that cerebellar networks are involved in spatial learning, controlling the acquisition of exploration strategies without blocking motor execution of the task. Action learning by observation has been considered somehow related to motor physiology, because it provides a way of learning performances that is almost as effective as the actual execution of actions. Neuroimaging studies demonstrate that observation of movements performed by others, imagination of actions, and actual execution of motor performances share common neural substrates and that the cerebellum is among these shared areas. The present paper analyzes the effects of observation in learning a spatial task, focusing on the cerebellar role in learning a spatial ability through observation. We allowed normal rats to observe 200 Morris water maze trials performed by companion rats. After this observation training, 'observer' rats underwent a hemicerebellectomy and then were tested in the Morris water maze. In spite of the cerebellar lesion, they displayed no spatial defects, exhibiting exploration abilities comparable to controls, when the cerebellar lesion preceded observation training, a complete lack of spatial observational learning was observed. Thus, as demonstrated already for the acquisition of spatial procedures through actual execution, cerebellar circuits appear to play a key role in the acquisition of spatial procedures also through observation. In conclusion, the present results provide strong support for a common neural basis in the observation of actions that are to be reproduced as well as in the actual production of the same actions.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)2320-2325
Number of pages6
JournalProceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America
Issue number5
Publication statusPublished - Feb 29 2000

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Genetics
  • General


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