Santa Lucia - Neurosciences and Rehabilitation Sapienza University of Rome

Cereb Cortex. 2013 Mar;23(3):570-80. doi: 10.1093/cercor/bhs040. Epub 2012 Mar 16

Compensatory plasticity in the action observation network: virtual lesions of STS enhance anticipatory simulation of seen actions

Observation of snapshots depicting ongoing motor acts increases corticospinal motor excitability. Such motor facilitation indexes the anticipatory simulation of observed (implied) actions and likely reflects computations occurring in the parietofrontal nodes of a cortical network subserving action perception (action observation network, AON). However, direct evidence for the active role of AON in simulating the future of seen actions is lacking. Using a perturb-and-measure transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS) approach, we show that off-line TMS disruption of regions within (inferior frontal cortex, IFC) and upstream (superior temporal sulcus, STS) the parietofrontal AON transiently abolishes and enhances the motor facilitation to observed implied actions, respectively. Our findings highlight the critical role of IFC in anticipatory motor simulation. More importantly, they show that disruption of STS calls into play compensatory motor simulation activity, fundamental for counteracting the noisy visual processing induced by TMS. Thus, short-term plastic changes in the AON allow motor simulation to deal with any gap or ambiguity of ever-changing perceptual worlds. These findings support the active, compensatory, and predictive role of frontoparietal nodes of the AON in the perception and anticipatory simulation of implied actions.

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