Santa Lucia - Neurosciences and Rehabilitation Sapienza University of Rome

J Neurosci. 2006 Jul 26;26(30):7942-9

Mapping implied body actions in the human motor system

The human visual system is highly tuned to perceive actual motion as well as to extrapolate dynamic information from static pictures of objects or creatures captured in the middle of motion. Processing of implied motion activates higher-order visual areas that are also involved in processing biological motion. Imagery and observation of actual movements performed by others engenders selective activation of motor and premotor areas that are part of a mirror-neuron system matching action observation and execution. By using single-pulse transcranial magnetic stimulation, we found that the mere observation of static snapshots of hands suggesting a pincer grip action induced an increase in corticospinal excitability as compared with observation of resting, relaxed hands, or hands suggesting a completed action. This facilitatory effect was specific for the muscle that would be activated during actual execution of the observed action. We found no changes in responsiveness of the tested muscles during observation of nonbiological entities with (e.g., waterfalls) or without (e.g., icefalls) implied motion. Thus, extrapolation of motion information concerning human actions induced a selective activation of the motor system. This indicates that overlapping motor regions are engaged in the visual analysis of physical and implied body actions. The absence of motor evoked potential modulation during observation of end posture stimuli may indicate that the observation-execution matching system is preferentially activated by implied, ongoing but not yet completed actions.

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