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Cereb Cortex. 2009 Jun;19(6):1239-55. doi: 10.1093/cercor/bhn181. Epub 2008 Nov 19.

The observation and execution of actions share motor and somatosensory voxels in all tested subjects: single-subject analyses of unsmoothed fMRI data.

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University Medical Center Groningen, University of Groningen, Department of Neuroscience, Groningen, The Netherlands.


Many neuroimaging studies of the mirror neuron system (MNS) examine if certain voxels in the brain are shared between action observation and execution (shared voxels, sVx). Unfortunately, finding sVx in standard group analyses is not a guarantee that sVx exist in individual subjects. Using unsmoothed, single-subject analyses we show sVx can be reliably found in all 16 investigated participants. Beside the ventral premotor (BA6/44) and inferior parietal cortex (area PF) where mirror neurons (MNs) have been found in monkeys, sVx were reliably observed in dorsal premotor, supplementary motor, middle cingulate, somatosensory (BA3, BA2, and OP1), superior parietal, middle temporal cortex and cerebellum. For the premotor, somatosensory and parietal areas, sVx were more numerous in the left hemisphere. The hand representation of the primary motor cortex showed a reduced BOLD during hand action observation, possibly preventing undesired overt imitation. This study provides a more detailed description of the location and reliability of sVx and proposes a model that extends the original idea of the MNS to include forward and inverse internal models and motor and sensory simulation, distinguishing the MNS from a more general concept of sVx.

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