The role of ventral premotor cortex in action execution and action understanding

J Physiol Paris. 2006 Jun;99(4-6):396-405. doi: 10.1016/j.jphysparis.2006.03.005. Epub 2006 May 24.


The human ventral premotor cortex overlaps, at least in part, with Broca's region in the dominant cerebral hemisphere, that is known to mediate the production of language and contributes to language comprehension. This region is constituted of Brodmann's areas 44 and 45 in the inferior frontal gyrus. We summarize the evidence that the motor related part of Broca's region is localized in the opercular portion of the inferior frontal cortex, mainly in area 44 of Brodmann. According to our own data, there seems to be a homology between Brodmann area 44 in humans and the monkey area F5. The non-language related motor functions of Broca's region comprise complex hand movements, associative sensorimotor learning and sensorimotor integration. Brodmann's area 44 is also a part of a specialized parieto-premotor network and interacts significantly with the neighbouring premotor areas. In the ventral premotor area F5 of monkeys, the so called mirror neurons have been found which discharge both when the animal performs a goal-directed hand action and when it observes another individual performing the same or a similar action. More recently, in the same area mirror neurons responding not only to the observation of mouth actions, but also to sounds characteristic to actions have been found. In humans, through an fMRI study, it has been shown that the observation of actions performed with the hand, the mouth and the foot leads to the activation of different sectors of Broca's area and premotor cortex, according to the effector involved in the observed action, following a somatotopic pattern which resembles the classical motor cortex homunculus. On the other hand the evidence is growing that human ventral premotor cortex, especially Brodmann's area 44, is involved in polymodal action processing. These results strongly support the existence of an execution-observation matching system (mirror neuron system). It has been proposed that this system is involved in polymodal action recognition and might represent a precursor of language processing. Experimental evidence in favour of this hypothesis both in the monkey and humans is shortly reviewed.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Cognition / physiology
  • Haplorhini
  • Humans
  • Motor Cortex / physiology*
  • Psychomotor Performance / physiology*