Intentional movement is an internally driven process that requires the integration of motivational and sensory cues with motor preparedness. In addition to the motor cortical-basal ganglia circuits, the limbic circuits are also involved in the integration of these cues. Individuals with Parkinson's disease (PD) have a particular difficulty with internally generating intentional movements and maintaining the speed, size, and vigor of movements. This difficulty improves when they are provided with external cues suggesting that there is a problem with the internal motivation of movement in PD. The prevailing view attributes this difficulty in PD to the dysfunction of motor cortical-basal ganglia circuits. First, we argue that the standard cortical-basal ganglia circuit model of motor dysfunction in PD needs to be expanded to include the insula which is a major hub within the limbic circuits. We propose a neural circuit model highlighting the interaction between the insula and dorsomedial frontal cortex which is involved in generating intentional movements. The insula processes a wide range of sensory signals arising from the body and integrates them with the emotional and motivational context. In doing so, it provides the impetus to the dorsomedial frontal cortex to initiate and sustain movement. Second, we present the results of our proof-of-concept experiment demonstrating that the functional connectivity of the insula-dorsomedial frontal cortex circuit can be enhanced with neurofeedback-guided kinesthetic motor imagery using functional magnetic resonance imaging in subjects with PD. Specifically, we found that the intensity and quality of body sensations evoked during motor imagery and the emotional and motivational context of motor imagery determined the direction (i.e., negative or positive) of the insula-dorsomedial frontal cortex functional connectivity. After 10-12 neurofeedback sessions and "off-line" practice of the successful motor imagery strategies all subjects showed a significant increase in the insula-dorsomedial frontal cortex functional connectivity. Finally, we discuss the implications of these results regarding motor function in patients with PD and propose suggestions for future studies.
Keywords: basal ganglia; dorsomedial frontal cortex; functional connectivity; functional magnetic resonance imaging; intention; interoception.