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Neuroimage. 2006 Nov 15;33(3):923-35. Epub 2006 Sep 25.

Observing complex action sequences: The role of the fronto-parietal mirror neuron system.

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UCLA Ahmanson-Lovelace Brain Mapping Center, David Geffen School of Medicine, University of California, Los Angeles, CA 90095, USA.


A fronto-parietal mirror neuron network in the human brain supports the ability to represent and understand observed actions allowing us to successfully interact with others and our environment. Using functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI), we wanted to investigate the response of this network in adults during observation of hierarchically organized action sequences of varying complexity that emerge at different developmental stages. We hypothesized that fronto-parietal systems may play a role in coding the hierarchical structure of object-directed actions. The observation of all action sequences recruited a common bilateral network including the fronto-parietal mirror neuron system and occipito-temporal visual motion areas. Activity in mirror neuron areas varied according to the motoric complexity of the observed actions, but not according to the developmental sequence of action structures, possibly due to the fact that our subjects were all adults. These results suggest that the mirror neuron system provides a fairly accurate simulation process of observed actions, mimicking internally the level of motoric complexity. We also discuss the results in terms of the links between mirror neurons, language development and evolution.

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