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J Commun Disord. 2009 Jul-Aug;42(4):299-304. doi: 10.1016/j.jcomdis.2009.03.011. Epub 2009 Apr 17.

Motor-auditory-visual integration: The role of the human mirror neuron system in communication and communication disorders.

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  • 1Institute of Cognitive Science, CU Boulder, Boulder, CO, USA.


The mirror neuron system (MNS) is a trimodal system composed of neuronal populations that respond to motor, visual, and auditory stimulation, such as when an action is performed, observed, heard or read about. In humans, the MNS has been identified using neuroimaging techniques (such as fMRI and mu suppression in the EEG). It reflects an integration of motor-auditory-visual information processing related to aspects of language learning including action understanding and recognition. Such integration may also form the basis for language-related constructs such as theory of mind. In this article, we review the MNS system as it relates to the cognitive development of language in typically developing children and in children at-risk for communication disorders, such as children with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) or hearing impairment. Studying MNS development in these children may help illuminate an important role of the MNS in children with communication disorders. Studies with deaf children are especially important because they offer potential insights into how the MNS is reorganized when one modality, such as audition, is deprived during early cognitive development, and this may have long-term consequences on language maturation and theory of mind abilities.


Readers will be able to (1) understand the concept of mirror neurons, (2) identify cortical areas associated with the MNS in animal and human studies, (3) discuss the use of mu suppression in the EEG for measuring the MNS in humans, and (4) discuss MNS dysfunction in children with (ASD).

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