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Rev Neurol (Paris). 2013 Apr;169(4):285-90. doi: 10.1016/j.neurol.2012.10.008. Epub 2013 Feb 8.

[Mirror neurons: from anatomy to pathophysiological and therapeutic implications].

[Article in French]

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Service de neurochirurgie, groupe hospitalier universitaire La Pitié-Salpêtrière, Assistance publique-Hôpitaux de Paris, 47-83, boulevard de l'Hôpital, 75013 Paris, France.



Mirror neurons are a special class of neurons discovered in the 1990s. They respond when we perform an action and also when we see someone else perform that action. They play a role in the pathophysiology of some neuropsychiatric diseases.


Mirror neurons have been identified in humans: in Broca's area and the inferior parietal cortex. Their responses are qualitative and selective depending on the observed action. Emotions (including disgust) and empathy seem to operate according to a mirror mechanism. Indeed, the mirror system allows us to encode the sensory experience and to simulate the emotional state of others. This results in our improved identification of the emotions in others. Additionally, mirror neurons can encode an observed action in motor stimuli and allow its reproduction; thus, they are involved in imitation and learning.


Current studies are assessing the role of mirror neurons in the pathopysiology of social-behavior disorders, including autism and schizophrenia. Understanding this mirror system will allow us to develop psychotherapy practices based on empathic resonance between the patient and the therapist. Also, some authors report that a passive rehabilitation technique, based on stimulation of the mirror-neuron system, has a beneficial effect in the treatment of patients with post-stroke motor deficits.


Mirror neurons are an anatomical entity that enables improved understanding of behavior and emotions, and serves as a base for developing new cognitive therapies. Additional studies are needed to clarify the exact role of this neuronal system in social cognition and its role in the development of some neuropsychiatric diseases.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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