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Imagining is not doing but involves specific motor commands: a review of experimental data related to motor inhibition

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journal contribution
posted on 2014-05-01, 14:41 authored by Aymeric Guillot, Frank Di Rienzo, Tadhg E. MacIntyre, Aidan P. Moran, Christine Collet
There is now compelling evidence that motor imagery (MI) and actual movement share common neural substrate. However, the question of how MI inhibits the transmission of motor commands into the efferent pathways in order to prevent any movement is largely unresolved. Similarly, little is known about the nature of the electromyographic activity that is apparent during MI. In addressing these gaps in the literature, the present paper argues that MI includes motor execution commands for muscle contractions which are blocked at some level of the motor system by inhibitory mechanisms. We first assemble data from neuroimaging studies that demonstrate that the neural networks mediating MI and motor performance are not totally overlapping, thereby highlighting potential differences between MI and actual motor execution.We then review MI data indicating the presence of subliminal muscular activity reflecting the intrinsic characteristics of the motor command as well as increased corticomotor excitability. The third section not only considers the inhibitory mechanisms involved during MI but also examines how the brain resolves the problem of issuing the motor command for action while supervising motor inhibition when people engage in voluntary movement during MI.The last part of the paper draws on imagery research in clinical contexts to suggest that some patients move while imagining an action, although they are not aware of such movements. In particular, experimental data from amputees as well as from patients with Parkinson’s disease are discussed.We also review recent studies based on comparing brain activity in tetraplegic patients with that from healthy matched controls that provide insights into inhibitory processes during MI. We conclude by arguing that based on available evidence, a multifactorial explanation of motor inhibition during MI is warranted.



Frontiers in Human Neuroscience;6, Article 247






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