Grasping objects and grasping action meanings: the dual role of monkey rostroventral premotor cortex (area F5)

Novartis Found Symp. 1998;218:81-95; discussion 95-103. doi: 10.1002/9780470515563.ch6.


Monkey area F5 consists of two main histochemical sectors, one buried inside the arcuate sulcus, the other located on the cortical convexity. Neurons of both sectors discharge during hand movements. Many of them also fire in response to the presentation of visual stimuli. However, the visual stimuli effective for triggering the neurons in each sector are markedly different. Neurons located in the bank of the arcuate sulcus respond to the observation of 3D objects, provided that object size and shape is congruent with the prehension type coded by the neuron ('canonical' F5 neurons). Neurons of the convexity discharge when the monkey observes hand actions performed by another individual, provided that they are similar to the motor action coded by the neuron ('mirror' neurons). What do the canonical F5 neurons and the surprising mirror neurons have in common? The interpretation we propose is that these two categories of F5 neurons both generate an internal copy of a potential hand action. In the case of 'canonical' neurons, this copy gives a description of how to grasp an object; in the case of mirror neurons it gives a description of an action made by another person. Because the individuals know the consequences of their actions, we propose that the internal motor copies of the observed actions represent the neural basis for understanding the meaning of actions made by others.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Hand Strength / physiology*
  • Haplorhini / physiology*
  • Motor Cortex / physiology*