Multimodal functional imaging of motor imagery using a novel paradigm

Hana Burianová*, Lars Marstaller, Paul Sowman, Graciela Tesan, Anina N. Rich, Mark Williams, Greg Savage, Blake W. Johnson

*Corresponding author for this work

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

    77 Citations (Scopus)


    Neuroimaging studies have shown that the neural mechanisms of motor imagery (MI) overlap substantially with the mechanisms of motor execution (ME). Surprisingly, however, the role of several regions of the motor circuitry in MI remains controversial, a variability that may be due to differences in neuroimaging techniques, MI training, instruction types, or tasks used to evoke MI. The objectives of this study were twofold: (i) to design a novel task that reliably invokes MI, provides a reliable behavioral measure of MI performance, and is transferable across imaging modalities; and (ii) to measure the common and differential activations for MI and ME with functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) and magnetoencephalography (MEG). We present a task in which it is difficult to give accurate responses without the use of either motor execution or motor imagery. The behavioral results demonstrate that participants performed similarly on the task when they imagined vs. executed movements and this performance did not change over time. The fMRI results show a spatial overlap of MI and ME in a number of motor and premotor areas, sensory cortices, cerebellum, inferior frontal gyrus, and ventrolateral thalamus. MI uniquely engaged bilateral occipital areas, left parahippocampus, and other temporal and frontal areas, whereas ME yielded unique activity in motor and sensory areas, cerebellum, precuneus, and putamen. The MEG results show a robust event-related beta band desynchronization in the proximity of primary motor and premotor cortices during both ME and MI. Together, these results further elucidate the neural circuitry of MI and show that our task robustly and reliably invokes motor imagery, and thus may prove useful for interrogating the functional status of the motor circuitry in patients with motor disorders.

    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)50-58
    Number of pages9
    Publication statusPublished - 1 May 2013


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