The functional significance of mu rhythms: translating "seeing" and "hearing" into "doing"

Brain Res Brain Res Rev. 2005 Dec 1;50(1):57-68. doi: 10.1016/j.brainresrev.2005.04.005. Epub 2005 May 31.


Existing evidence indicates that mu and other alpha-like rhythms are independent phenomena because of differences in source generation, sensitivity to sensory events, bilateral coherence, frequency, and power. Although mu suppression and enhancement echo sensorimotor processing in frontoparietal networks, they are also sensitive to cognitive and affective influences and likely reflect more than an idling brain state. Mu rhythms are present at early stages of human development and in other mammalian species. They exhibit adaptive and dynamically changing properties, including frequency acceleration and posterior-to-anterior shifts in focus. Furthermore, individuals can learn to control mu rhythms volitionally in a very short period of time. This raises questions about the mu rhythm's open neural architecture and ability to respond to cognitive, affective, and motor imagery, implying an even greater developmental and functional role than has previously been ascribed to it. Recent studies have suggested that mu rhythms reflect downstream modulation of motor cortex by prefrontal mirror neurons, i.e., cells that may play a critical role in imitation learning and the ability to understand the actions of others. It is proposed that mu rhythms represent an important information processing function that links perception and action-specifically, the transformation of "seeing" and "hearing" into "doing." In a broader context, this transformation function results from an entrainment/gating mechanism in which multiple alpha networks (visual-, auditory-, and somatosensory-centered domains), typically producing rhythmic oscillations in a locally independent manner, become coupled and entrained. A global or 'diffuse and distributed alpha system' comes into existence when these independent sources of alpha become coherently engaged in transforming perception to action.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Brain / anatomy & histology
  • Brain / physiology*
  • Brain Mapping*
  • Electroencephalography*
  • Hearing / physiology*
  • Humans
  • Mental Processes / physiology*
  • Vision, Ocular / physiology*