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Neuropsychologia. 2011 Nov;49(13):3689-98. doi: 10.1016/j.neuropsychologia.2011.09.024. Epub 2011 Sep 21.

Subcortical contributions to effective connectivity in brain networks supporting imitation.

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Department of Psychology, College of Arts and Sciences, University of Virginia, Charlottesville, VA 22904-4400, USA.


Using functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI), we investigated effective connectivity in brain networks supporting imitation. Despite extensive reports of regional functional specialization underlying action perception, action execution and imitation, our understanding of the potential contribution of subcortical sites is limited, as is our knowledge of how regions displaying functional specialization interact with each other on a system level. While in the scanner, participants performed a simple imitation paradigm with three conditions: Observe trials, in which participants passively viewed a human actor executing a sequence of four finger presses on a keypad; Imitate trials, in which participants imitated the actor's finger presses on a keyboard; and Execute trials, in which participants also executed finger presses but did so based on visuospatial cues in the absence of the actor's hand. Relative to the Execute condition, Imitate trials evoked significantly more activity in superior and inferior parietal lobules (SPL, IPL), posterior superior temporal sulcus (pSTS), and in a ventral aspect of dorsal premotor cortex (PMd). Psychophysiological interaction (PPI) analysis, a means of assessing effective connectivity, revealed significant interactions with regions of cerebellar lobule VII from seeds both in the right pSTS and right SPL, such that activity in these sites was more highly correlated during imitation. A similar interaction was found between right pSTS and left IPL. These results clarify the role of cortical regions supporting action observation, action execution and imitation, and highlight the role the cerebellum may play in facilitating both motor and nonmotor aspects of imitation.

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