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Indian J Psychol Med. 2015 Jan-Mar;37(1):58-65. doi: 10.4103/0253-7176.150821.

Mirror neuron dysfunction and ego-boundary disturbances in schizophrenia: a transcranial magnetic stimulation study.

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Department of Psychiatry, National Institute of Mental Health and Neurosciences, Bengaluru, Karnataka, India.



Ego-boundary disturbance (EBD) is a unique symptom cluster characterized by passivity experiences (involving thoughts, actions, emotions and sensations) attributed by patients to some external agency. The neurobiology of these "first rank" symptoms is poorly understood. Aberrant mirror neuron activation may explain impaired self-monitoring and agency attribution underlying these symptoms. We aim to study mirror neuron activity (MNA) in schizophrenia patients with and without EBD using transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS).


50 right-handed schizophrenia patients (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fourth Edition) were evaluated using the Mini-International Neuropsychiatric Interview and the Positive and Negative Syndrome Scale. They completed a TMS experiment to assess putative premotor MNA. Motor evoked potential (MEP) was recorded in the right first dorsal interosseous muscle (FDI) with (a) 120% of resting motor threshold (RMT), (b) stimulus intensity set to evoke MEP of motor threshold 1 mV amplitude (MT1), (c) two paired pulse paradigms (short- and long interval intra-cortical inhibition). These were done in three states: Actual observation of an action using the FDI, virtual-observation (video) of this action and resting state. The percent change of MEP from resting to action-observation states formed the measure of putative MNA.


MNA measured using MT1 and 120% RMT paradigms was significantly lower in the 18 patients with EBD (thought-broadcast/withdrawal/insertion, made-act/impulse/affect and somatic passivity) than the 32 patients without EBD (t = 2.431, P = 0.020; t = 2.051, P = 0.04 respectively for the two paradigms). The two groups did not differ on age, gender, education and total symptom scores.


Schizophrenia patients with EBD have lower premotor MNA. This highlights the role of MNA dysfunction in the pathophysiology of this unique and intriguing symptom cluster in schizophrenia.


Ego-boundary disturbances; first rank symptoms; mirror neuron activity; psychosis; transcranial magnetic stimulation

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