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Action-based routes for numbers: unveiling the core networks of reaching, grasping and number processing in brain damaged and healthy individuals.

Periodic Reporting for period 1 - GRINP (Action-based routes for numbers: unveiling the core networks of reaching, grasping and number processing in brain damaged and healthy individuals.)

Okres sprawozdawczy: 2020-03-02 do 2023-03-01

We learn to count and understand number magnitude through sensorimotor experiences, such as manipulating objects of different size, estimating sets of items, counting, and making computations with the fingers. When we perform simple numerical tasks (e.g. comparing numbers magnitude) there are many brain areas that are involved. Interestingly, some of these areas are also involved in programming and executing motor actions, such as reaching and grasping objects. What is the degree of overlap between motor and number networks? What happens when areas within this common network are damaged, e.g. following a stroke? Through the GRINP project I have investigated behavioural interactions and neuroanatomical overlap between processes of number, reach and grasp, as well as impairment resulting from lesions involving brain areas common to number, and hand motor action.
Understanding how motor and number processes are related substantiates the idea that cognition and action are highly interconnected. New protocols for the potentiation of numerical abilities can be implemented, based on the idea that it is possible to impact the understanding and use of number concepts through action-based interventions. Importantly, disclosing the common brain network between action and number triggers research on the degree of functional specificity of brain areas and networks, and on new approaches for education and rehabilitation of cognitive processes which take into account interindividual variability.
Overall, the GRINP project have succeeded in defining where in the brain the processing of number magnitude recruits the same sensorimotor network involved in planning and executing hand movements, as well as understanding how a brain lesion in these common areas lead to cognitive impairment in number processing and hand action.
Through the GRINP project I have addressed both scientific and clinical aims. Specifically, I have implemented two main lines of research: a line of research concerns the study of interaction between hand action and number processing and its neural correlated in populations of healthy adults (WP2) to investigate where and how processing number magnitude recruits the same sensorimotor network involved in planning and executing hand movements; a second line of research concerns neuropsychological investigation of brain damaged patients to disclose the type of impairment associated to lesions in brain areas common to number processing and hand action (WP1). The GRINP project have been conducted thanks to the enthusiastic contribution of many colleagues from the University of Padova, the San Camillo IRCCS hospital, the ULB-Erasme hospital, and national and international colleagues from other institutions.
Different methodological approaches from experimental psychology, neuropsychology, and cognitive neurosciences have been used in this project. With behavioural experiments I have investigated the effect of observing or performing hand action on number processing, and I have provided evidence for common cognitive processes between planning and execution of grasping and pointing actions, and number magnitude. Importantly, with these studies we implemented - for the first time in the numerical cognition research - paradigms based on motor adaptation, and we extended previous findings on number-action interactions describing interactions between pointing and number processing. I am currently investigating whether in is possible to observe the same interaction in tasks requiring judging numerical order instead of magnitude. Again, I have described the common brain network of reach, grasp, and number processing through meta-analyses of neuroimaging data, and through the use of neuroimaging methods (e.g. functional Near Infrared Spectroscopy - fNIRS): these studies allowed defining a consistent frontoparietal network common to grasping and number, involving areas in and around the intraparietal sulcus in both hemispheres, the left precentral gyrus, and the supplementary motor area. Further analyses on the collected data will allow defining associations between brain networks observed at rest and numerical abilities, such as mental calculation. Finally, I have implemented a short neuropsychological assessment for the detection of acalculia, number-grasping interactions, as well as action-related cognitive impairment such as apraxia, finger agnosia, and optic ataxia following stroke in the parietal lobe. The current results on the patients’ data indicate that number and action-related impairment following parietal stroke should be consistently integrated in standard neuropsychological assessment.
The project and its ongoing results have been documented in scientific peer-reviewed publications, to national (Italian) and international conferences, and through videos and interviews. Scientific articles, contributions at conferences, and dissemination activities associated to the GRINP project are open and can be found in the Research Padua Archive (IRIS, UNIPD).
The GRINP project has being very successful in terms of scientific publications, ongoing lines of research, and for my scientific career (tenure track position at the host institution). The developed experimental paradigms based on motor adaptation will be exploited in future studies to disentangle the effects of different motor actions on a variety of types of numerical tasks, to investigate the effects of performing a numerical task on motor action, to define the developmental trajectories of number-action interactions and the associated neuroanatomical correlates.
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