Background: Recent evidence has converged in showing that the lateral occipitotemporal cortex is over-recruited during implicit motor imagery in elderly and in patients with neurodegenerative disorders, such as Parkinson's disease. These data suggest that when automatically imaging movements, individuals exploit neural resources in the visual areas to compensate for the decline in activating motor representations. Thus, the occipitotemporal cortex could represent a cortical target of non-invasive brain stimulation combined with cognitive training to enhance motor imagery performance. Here, we aimed at shedding light on the role of the left and right lateral occipitotemporal cortex in implicit motor imagery.
Methods: We applied online, high-frequency, repetitive transcranial magnetic stimulation (rTMS) over the left and right lateral occipitotemporal cortex while healthy right-handers judged the laterality of hand images.
Results: With respect to the sham condition, left hemisphere stimulation specifically reduced accuracy in judging the laterality of right-hand images. Instead, the hallmark of motor simulation, i.e., the biomechanical effect, was never influenced by rTMS.
Conclusions: The lateral occipitotemporal cortex seems to be involved in mental representation of the dominant hand, at least in right-handers, but not in reactivating sensorimotor information during simulation. These findings provide useful hints for developing combined brain stimulation and behavioural trainings to improve motor imagery.
Keywords: compensation; hand laterality judgment; human hand; rTMS; visual areas.