Within the motor system, cortical areas such as the primary motor cortex (M1) and the ventral premotor cortex (PMv), are thought to be activated during the observation of actions performed by others. However, it is not known how the connections between these areas become active during action observation or whether these connections are modulated by the volitional component induced by the action observed. In this study, using a paired pulse transcranial magnetic stimulation (ppTMS) method, we evaluated the excitability of PMv-M1 connections during the observation of videos showing a human hand reaching to grasp a ball (naturalistic grasping video) or a switched on soldering iron (noxious grasping video). The results show that the observation of the naturalistic grasping action increased the M1 excitability and changed the strength of the PMv-M1 connections. The observation of the noxious grasping action did not induce any change in the excitability of the PMv-M1 connections throughout the video, but the strength of PMv-M1 connectivity was reduced. These results demonstrate that the PMv-M1 connections are modulated differently depending on whether the action observed would or would not be performed in real life.
2010. Published by Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.