Cortical correlates of gesture processing: clues to the cerebral mechanisms underlying apraxia during the imitation of meaningless gestures

Neuroimage. 2001 Jul;14(1 Pt 1):149-61. doi: 10.1006/nimg.2001.0796.


The clinical test of imitation of meaningless gestures is highly sensitive in revealing limb apraxia after dominant left brain damage. To relate lesion locations in apraxic patients to functional brain activation and to reveal the neuronal network subserving gesture representation, repeated H2(15O)-PET measurements were made in seven healthy subjects during a gesture discrimination task. Observing paired images of either meaningless hand or meaningless finger gestures, subjects had to indicate whether they were identical or different. As a control condition subjects simply had to indicate whether two portrayed persons were identical or not. Brain activity during the discrimination of hand gestures was strongly lateralized to the left hemisphere, a prominent peak activation being localized within the inferior parietal cortex (BA40). The discrimination of finger gestures induced a more symmetrical activation and rCBF peaks in the right intraparietal sulcus and in medial visual association areas (BA18/19). Two additional foci of prominent rCBF increase were found. One focus was located at the left lateral occipitotemporal junction (BA 19/37) and was related to both tasks; the other in the pre-SMA was particularly related to hand gestures. The pattern of task-dependent activation corresponds closely to the predictions made from the clinical findings, and underlines the left brain dominance for meaningless hand gestures and the critical involvement of the parietal cortex. The lateral visual association areas appear to support first stages of gesture representation, and the parietal cortex is part of the dorsal action stream. Finger gestures may require in addition precise visual analysis and spatial attention enabled by occipital and right intraparietal activity. Pre-SMA activity during the perception of hand gestures may reflect engagement of a network that is intimately related to gesture execution.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Apraxias / diagnostic imaging
  • Apraxias / physiopathology*
  • Cerebral Cortex / diagnostic imaging
  • Cerebral Cortex / physiopathology*
  • Dominance, Cerebral / physiology
  • Gestures*
  • Humans
  • Image Processing, Computer-Assisted
  • Imaging, Three-Dimensional
  • Imitative Behavior / physiology*
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Parietal Lobe / diagnostic imaging
  • Parietal Lobe / physiopathology
  • Reference Values
  • Regional Blood Flow / physiology
  • Tomography, Emission-Computed*
  • Visual Cortex / diagnostic imaging
  • Visual Cortex / physiopathology