The Role of Parietal Cortex in Awareness of Self-generated Movements: a Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation Study


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Abstract

Awareness of self-generated movements arises from comparing motor plans, and the accompanying (hypothetical) efference copy, with the visual and proprioceptive consequences of movement. Here we used repetitive transcranial magnetic stimulation (rTMS) to investigate the role of a posterior region in the superior parietal lobule (SPL) in this process. Nine healthy volunteers performed a finger extension actively and passively while wearing a CyberGlove; the glove recorded these (actual) finger movements and used this information in real time to move a virtual hand displayed on a computer screen. To assess the participant’s awareness of movement onset, we introduced a delay between the onset of the actual and virtual movement (60–270 ms, 30 ms increments); the task was to judge whether the virtual hand movements were delayed relative to the actual hand movements. Low-frequency rTMS (15 min, 0.6 Hz) was applied either over the left SPL or the left temporal cortex (control site) to decrease excitability of these regions and, in turn, test their role in the awareness of self-generated movement. Following the SPL stimulation, participants’ assessments of asynchrony were impaired for active but not passive movements. No significant changes were observed after rTMS applied over the control site. We suggest that these findings are consistent with the role of the SPL in evaluating the temporal congruency of peripheral (visual) and central (efference copy) signals associated with self-generated movements. As such, this region may contribute to the sense of ‘agency’ and its disturbances in disorders such as apraxia and schizophrenia.

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