The effect of action observation/execution on mirror neuron system recruitment: an fMRI study in healthy individuals

R Gatti, MA Rocca, S Fumagalli, E Cattrysse, E Kerckhofs, A Falini, M Filippi

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Action observation and execution activate regions that are part of the motor and mirror neuron systems (MNS). Using functional magnetic resonance (fMRI), we defined the presence and extent of MNS activation during three different motor tasks with the dominant, right-upper limb in healthy individuals. The influence of the modality of task administration (execution, observation, observation and execution) was also investigated. fMRI scans during the execution (E) of a motor task, the observation (O) of a video showing the same task performed by another person and the simultaneous observation and execution (OE) of the task were obtained from three groups of healthy subjects (15 subjects per group) randomized to perform: a simple motor (SM) task, a complex motor (CM) task and a finalistic motor (FM) task. Manual dexterity was assessed using the 9-hole peg test and maximum finger tapping frequency. MNS activation was higher during FM than SM or CM tasks, independently from the modality of administration (E, O, or OE). Inferior frontal gyrus recruitment was more significant during SM than CM tasks in the E and O conditions. Compared to SM and FM, CM task resulted in increased recruitment of brain regions involved in complex motor task performance. Compared to O and E, OE resulted in the recruitment of additional, specific, brain areas in the cerebellum, temporal and parietal lobes. The modality of administration and the type of task modulated MNS recruitment during motor acts. This might have practical implications for the set-up of individualized motor rehabilitation strategies. © 2016 Springer Science+Business Media New York
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)565-576
Number of pages12
JournalBrain Imaging and Behavior
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 2017


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