Role of the primary motor cortex in the early boost in performance following mental imagery training

PLoS One. 2011;6(10):e26717. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0026717. Epub 2011 Oct 26.


Recently, it has been suggested that the primary motor cortex (M1) plays a critical role in implementing the fast and transient post-training phase of motor skill consolidation, known to yield an early boost in performance. Whether a comparable early boost in performance occurs following motor imagery (MIM) training is still unknown. To address this issue, two groups of subjects learned a finger tapping sequence either by MIM or physical practice (PP). In both groups, performance increased significantly in the post-training phase when compared with the pre-training phase and further increased after a 30 min resting period, indicating that both MIM and PP trainings were equally efficient and induced an early boost in motor performance. This conclusion was corroborated by the results of an additional control group. In a second experiment, we then investigated the causal role of M1 in implementing the early boost process resulting from MIM training. To do so, we inhibited M1 by applying a continuous theta-burst stimulation (cTBS) in healthy volunteers just after they learnt, by MIM, the same finger-tapping task as in Experiment #1. As a control, cTBS was applied over the vertex of subjects who underwent the same experiment. We found that cTBS applied over M1 selectively abolished the early boost process subsequent to MIM training. Altogether, the present study provides evidence that MIM practice induces an early boost in performance and demonstrates that M1 is causally involved in this process. These findings further divulge some degree of behavioral and neuronal similitude between MIM and PP.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Female
  • Fingers
  • Humans
  • Imagery, Psychotherapy* / education
  • Imagery, Psychotherapy* / methods
  • Learning / physiology
  • Male
  • Motor Cortex / physiology*
  • Psychomotor Performance / physiology*
  • Young Adult