Imagery of voluntary movement of fingers, toes, and tongue activates corresponding body-part-specific motor representations

J Neurophysiol. 2003 Nov;90(5):3304-16. doi: 10.1152/jn.01113.2002.


We investigate whether imagery of voluntary movements of different body parts activates somatotopical sections of the human motor cortices. We used functional magnetic resonance imaging to detect the cortical activity when 7 healthy subjects imagine performing repetitive (0.5-Hz) flexion/extension movements of the right fingers or right toes, or horizontal movements of the tongue. We also collected functional images when the subjects actually executed these movements and used these data to define somatotopical representations in the motor areas. In this study, we relate the functional activation maps to cytoarchitectural population maps of areas 4a, 4p, and 6 in the same standard anatomical space. The important novel findings are 1). that imagery of hand movements specifically activates the hand sections of the contralateral primary motor cortex (area 4a) and the contralateral dorsal premotor cortex (area 6) and a hand representation located in the caudal cingulate motor area and the most ventral part of the supplementary motor area; 2). that when imagining making foot movements, the foot zones of the posterior part of the contralateral supplementary motor area (area 6) and the contralateral primary motor cortex (area 4a) are active; and 3). that imagery of tongue movements activates the tongue region of the primary motor cortex and the premotor cortex bilaterally (areas 4a, 4p, and 6). These results demonstrate that imagery of action engages the somatotopically organized sections of the primary motor cortex in a systematic manner as well as activating some body-part-specific representations in the nonprimary motor areas. Thus the content of the mental motor image, in this case the body part, is reflected in the pattern of motor cortical activation.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Brain Mapping / methods*
  • Female
  • Fingers / physiology
  • Humans
  • Imagination / physiology*
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging / methods
  • Male
  • Motor Cortex / physiology*
  • Movement / physiology*
  • Toes / physiology
  • Tongue / physiology