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Sci Rep. 2016 Oct 5;6:34907. doi: 10.1038/srep34907.

BDNF Val66Met Polymorphism Influences Visuomotor Associative Learning and the Sensitivity to Action Observation.

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École de psychologie, Université Laval, Québec, G1V 0A6, Canada.
Centre interdisciplinaire de recherche en réadaptation et intégration sociale (CIRRIS), Québec, G1M 2S8, Canada.
Centre de recherche de l'institut universitaire en santé mentale de Québec (CRIUSMQ), Québec, G1J 2G3, Canada.
Human Neuroimaging laboratory, Virginia Tech Carilion Research Institute, Roanoke, VA, 24016, USA.
Department of physiology, Northwestern University, Chicago, 60611, I1. USA.
Departement de psychologie, Université du Québec à Trois-Rivières, Trois-Rivières, Québec, G9A 5H7, Canada.
Centre de recherche de l'Hopital Sacré-Coeur, Montréal, Québec, H4J 1C5, Canada.
Department de réadaptation, Université Laval, Québec, G1V 0A6, Canada.
Berenson-Allen Center for Noninvasive Brain Stimulation, Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, Harvard Medical School, 330 Brookline Ave, Boston, MA, 02215, US.
Department of psychiatry and medicine, McGill University, Montréal, Québec, H3A 1A1, Canada.
Douglas Mental Health University Institute, Verdun, Québec, H4H 1R3, Canada.
Département de Psychiatrie et des Neurosciences, Université Laval, Québec, G1V 0A6, Canada.


Motor representations in the human mirror neuron system are tuned to respond to specific observed actions. This ability is widely believed to be influenced by genetic factors, but no study has reported a genetic variant affecting this system so far. One possibility is that genetic variants might interact with visuomotor associative learning to configure the system to respond to novel observed actions. In this perspective, we conducted a candidate gene study on the Brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF) Val66Met polymorphism, a genetic variant linked to motor learning in regions of the mirror neuron system, and tested the effect of this polymorphism on motor facilitation and visuomotor associative learning. In a single-pulse TMS study carried on 16 Met (Val/Met and Met/Met) and 16 Val/Val participants selected from a large pool of healthy volunteers, Met participants showed significantly less muscle-specific corticospinal sensitivity during action observation, as well as reduced visuomotor associative learning, compared to Val homozygotes. These results are the first evidence of a genetic variant tuning sensitivity to action observation and bring to light the importance of considering the intricate relation between genetics and associative learning in order to further understand the origin and function of the human mirror neuron system.

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