Functions of the Mirror Neuron System: Implications for Neurorehabilitation


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Abstract

Mirror neurons discharge during the execution of hand object-directed actions and during the observation of the same actions performed by other individuals. These neurons were first identified in the ventral premotor cortex (area F5) and later on in the inferior parietal lobule of monkey brain, thus constituting the mirror neuron system. More recently, mirror neurons for mouth object-directed actions have also been found in the monkey. Several pieces of experimental data demonstrate that a mirror neuron system devoted to hand, mouth, and foot actions is also present in humans. In the present paper we review the experimental evidence on the role of the mirror neuron system in action understanding, imitation learning of novel complex actions, and internal rehearsal (motor imagery) of actions. On the basis of features of the mirror neuron system and its role in action understanding and imitation, we discuss the possible use of action observation and imitation as an approach for systematic training in the rehabilitation of patients with motor impairment of the upper limb after stroke.

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