Mirroring in the Human Brain: Deciphering the Spatial-Temporal Patterns of the Human Mirror Neuron System

Abstract:

Embodied theories of cognition emphasize the central role of sensorimotor transformations in the representation of others’ actions. Support for these theories is derived from the discovery of the mirror neuron system (MNS) in primates, from noninvasive techniques in humans, and from a limited number of intracranial studies. To understand the neural dynamics of the human MNS, more studies with precise spatial and temporal resolutions are essential. We used electrocorticography to define activation patterns in sensorimotor, parietal and/or frontal neuronal populations, during a viewing and grasping task. Our results show robust high gamma activation for both conditions in classic MNS sites. Furthermore, we provide novel evidence for 2 different populations of neurons: sites that were only active for viewing and grasping (“pure mirroring”) and sites that were also active between viewing and grasping, and perhaps serve a more general attentional role. Lastly, a subgroup of parietal electrodes showed earlier peaks than all other regions. These results highlight the complexity of spatial-temporal patterns within the MNS and provide a critical link between single-unit research in monkeys and noninvasive techniques in human.