Neural circuits underlying imitation learning of hand actions: an event-related fMRI study

Neuron. 2004 Apr 22;42(2):323-34. doi: 10.1016/s0896-6273(04)00181-3.


The neural bases of imitation learning are virtually unknown. In the present study, we addressed this issue using an event-related fMRI paradigm. Musically naive participants were scanned during four events: (1) observation of guitar chords played by a guitarist, (2) a pause following model observation, (3) execution of the observed chords, and (4) rest. The results showed that the basic circuit underlying imitation learning consists of the inferior parietal lobule and the posterior part of the inferior frontal gyrus plus the adjacent premotor cortex (mirror neuron circuit). This circuit, known to be involved in action understanding, starts to be active during the observation of the guitar chords. During pause, the middle frontal gyrus (area 46) plus structures involved in motor preparation (dorsal premotor cortex, superior parietal lobule, rostral mesial areas) also become active. Given the functional properties of area 46, a model of imitation learning is proposed based on interactions between this area and the mirror neuron system.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Cerebral Cortex / physiology*
  • Female
  • Hand / physiology
  • Humans
  • Imitative Behavior / physiology*
  • Learning / physiology
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging / methods*
  • Male
  • Movement / physiology*
  • Nerve Net / physiology*