Brain activation during execution and motor imagery of novel and skilled sequential hand movements

Michael G Lacourse, Elizabeth L R Orr, Steven C Cramer, Michael J Cohen
NeuroImage 2005, 27 (3): 505-19
This experiment used functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) to compare functional neuroanatomy associated with executed and imagined hand movements in novel and skilled learning phases. We hypothesized that 1 week of intensive physical practice would strengthen the motor representation of a hand motor sequence and increase the similarity of functional neuroanatomy associated with executed and imagined hand movements. During fMRI scanning, a right-hand self-paced button press sequence was executed and imagined before (NOVEL) and after (SKILLED) 1 week of intensive physical practice (n = 54; right-hand dominant). The mean execution rate was significantly faster in the SKILLED (3.8 Hz) than the NOVEL condition (2.5 Hz) (P < 0.001), but there was no difference in execution errors. Activation foci associated with execution and imagery was congruent in both the NOVEL and SKILLED conditions, though activation features were more similar in the SKILLED versus NOVEL phase. In the NOVEL phase, activations were more extensive during execution than imagery in primary and secondary cortical motor volumes and the cerebellum, while during imagery activations were greater in the striatum. In the SKILLED phase, activation features within these same volumes became increasingly similar for execution and imagery, though imagery more heavily activated premotor areas, inferior parietal lobe, and medial temporal lobe, while execution more heavily activated the precentral/postcentral gyri, striatum, and cerebellum. This experiment demonstrated congruent activation of the cortical and subcortical motor system during both novel and skilled learning phases, supporting the effectiveness of motor imagery-based mental practice techniques for both the acquisition of new skills and the rehearsal of skilled movements.

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