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Observation of action: Circuit assessment

Engagement of the primary motor cortex (MI) during the observation of actions has been debated for a long time. In the present study, we used the quantitative 14C-deoxyglucose method in monkeys that either grasped 3-D objects or observed the same movements executed by humans.

We found that the forelimb regions of the MI and the primary somatosensory (SI) cortex were significantly activated in both cases. Our study resolves a debate in the literature, providing strong evidence for use of MI representations during the observation of actions. It demonstrates that the observation of an action is represented in the primary motor and somatosensory cortices as is its execution. It indicates that in terms of neural correlates, recognizing a motor behaviour is like executing the same behaviour, requiring the involvement of a distributed system encompassing not only the premotor but also the primary motor cortex.

We suggest that movements and their proprioceptive components are stored as motor and somatosensory representations in motor and somatosensory cortices, respectively, and that these representations are recalled during observation of an action.

These data have been published in Neuroimage, 2004, 23: 193-201.

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