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PLoS By Category | Recent PLoS Articles
Neuroscience - Radiology and Medical Imaging

How Frontoparietal Brain Regions Mediate Imitative and Complementary Actions: An fMRI Study
Published: Friday, October 28, 2011
Author: Brenda Ocampo et al.

by Brenda Ocampo, Ada Kritikos, Ross Cunnington

The ‘mirror neuron system’ (MNS), located within inferior parietal lobe (IPL) and inferior frontal gyrus (IFG), creates an internal motor representation of the actions we see and has been implicated in imitation. Recently, the MNS has been implicated in non-identical responses: when the actions we must execute do not match those that we observe. However, in such conflicting situations non action-specific cognitive control networks also located in frontoparietal regions may be involved. In the present functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) study participants made both similar and dissimilar actions within two action contexts: imitative and complementary. We aimed to determine whether activity within IPL/IFG depends on (i) responding under an imitative versus complementary context (ii) responding with similar versus dissimilar responses, and (iii) observing hand actions versus symbolic arrow cue stimuli. Activity within rIPL/rIFG regions was largest during observation of hand actions compared with arrow cues. Specifically, rIPL/rIFG were recruited only during the imitative context, when participants responded with similar actions. When responding to symbolic arrow cues, rIPL/rIFG activity increased during dissimilar responses, reflecting increased demands placed on general cognitive control mechanisms. These results suggest a specific role of rIPL/rIFG during imitation of hand actions, and also a general role of frontoparietal areas in mediating dissimilar responses to both hand actions and symbolic stimuli. We discuss our findings in relation to recent work that has examined the role of frontoparietal brain structures in joint-actions and inter-actor cooperation. We conclude that the specific brain regions identified here to show increased activation during action observation conditions are likely to form part of a mechanism specifically involved in matching observed actions directly with internal motor plans. Conversely, observation of arrow cues recruited part of a wider cognitive control network involved in the rapid remapping of stimulus-response associations.