Human cortical representations for reaching: mirror neurons for execution, observation, and imagery

Neuroimage. 2007 Oct 1;37(4):1315-28. doi: 10.1016/j.neuroimage.2007.06.008. Epub 2007 Jun 18.


We used functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) to map the cortical representations of executed reaching, observed reaching, and imagined reaching in humans. Whereas previous studies have mostly examined hand actions related to grasping, hand-object interactions, or local finger movements, here we were interested in reaching only (i.e. the transport phase of the hand to a particular location in space), without grasping. We hypothesized that mirror neuron areas specific to reaching-related representations would be active in all three conditions. An overlap between executed, observed, and imagined reaching activations was found in dorsal premotor cortex as well as in the superior parietal lobe and the intraparietal sulcus, in accord with our hypothesis. Activations for observed reaching were more dorsal than activations typically reported in the literature for observation of hand-object interactions (grasping). Our results suggest that the mirror neuron system is specific to the type of hand action performed, and that these fronto-parietal activations are a putative human homologue of the neural circuits underlying reaching in macaques. The parietal activations reported here for executed, imagined, and observed reaching are also consistent with previous functional imaging studies on planned reaching and delayed pointing movements, and extend the proposed localization of human reach-related brain areas to observation as well as imagery of reaching.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Brain Mapping
  • Cerebral Cortex / cytology
  • Cerebral Cortex / physiology*
  • Cluster Analysis
  • Data Interpretation, Statistical
  • Female
  • Fixation, Ocular
  • Functional Laterality / physiology
  • Humans
  • Image Processing, Computer-Assisted
  • Imagination / physiology*
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Neurons / physiology*
  • Photic Stimulation
  • Psychomotor Performance / physiology*
  • Space Perception / physiology*
  • Visual Perception / physiology*