The neural correlates of planning and executing actual tool use

J Neurosci. 2014 Sep 24;34(39):13183-94. doi: 10.1523/JNEUROSCI.0597-14.2014.


Human tool use is complex, and underlying neural mechanisms seem to be widely distributed across several brain systems; however, neuroimaging studies of actual tool use are rare because of experimental challenges hindering detailed analysis within one acting subject. We developed a "Tool-Carousel" that enabled us to test actual manipulation of different objects during fMRI and investigate the planning and execution of goal-directed actions. Particularly, we focused on the effects of three factors on object manipulations: the type of object manipulated, the type of manipulation, and the hand to be used. The main focus lay on the question of how complex object use compared with unspecific actions are processed and especially how such representations interact with the knowledge about the object in the action-related dorsal stream. We found that object manipulations with both right and left hand recruit a common network strongly lateralized to the left hemisphere especially during planning but also action execution. Specifically, while activity in the ventral stream was involved in processing semantic information and object properties, a dorso-dorsal pathway (i.e., superior occipital gyrus, superior parietal lobule, and dorsal premotor area) was relevant for monitoring the online control of objects and also a ventro-dorsal pathway (i.e., middle occipital gyrus, inferior parietal lobule, and ventral premotor area) was specifically involved in processing known object manipulations, such as tool use. Data further indicate an interaction of ventral stream areas, such as middle temporal gyrus and lateral occipital complex, with both dorsal pathways. These results provide evidence for left-lateralized occipito-temporo-parieto-frontal network of everyday tool use, which may help to characterize specific deficits in patients suffering from apraxia.

Keywords: action execution; action planning; fMRI; tool use.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Brain / physiology*
  • Brain Mapping*
  • Female
  • Functional Laterality*
  • Hand / innervation
  • Hand / physiology
  • Humans
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging
  • Male
  • Motor Skills*