Mirror neurons in macaque area F5 fire when an animal performs an action, such as a mouth or limb movement, and also when the animal passively observes an identical or similar action performed by another individual. Brain-imaging studies in humans conducted over the last 20 years have repeatedly attempted to reveal analogous brain regions with mirror properties in humans, with broad and often speculative claims about their functional significance across a range of cognitive domains, from language to social cognition. Despite such concerted efforts, the likely neural substrates of these mirror regions have remained controversial, and indeed the very existence of a distinct subcategory of human neurons with mirroring properties has been questioned. Here we used activation likelihood estimation (ALE), to provide a quantitative index of the consistency of patterns of fMRI activity measured in human studies of action observation and action execution. From an initial sample of more than 300 published works, data from 125 papers met our strict inclusion and exclusion criteria. The analysis revealed 14 separate clusters in which activation has been consistently attributed to brain regions with mirror properties, encompassing 9 different Brodmann areas. These clusters were located in areas purported to show mirroring properties in the macaque, such as the inferior parietal lobule, inferior frontal gyrus and the adjacent ventral premotor cortex, but surprisingly also in regions such as the primary visual cortex, cerebellum and parts of the limbic system. Our findings suggest a core network of human brain regions that possess mirror properties associated with action observation and execution, with additional areas recruited during tasks that engage non-motor functions, such as auditory, somatosensory and affective components.
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