The vast majority of functional studies investigating mirror neurons (MNs) explored their properties in relation to hand actions, and very few investigated how MNs respond to mouth actions or communicative gestures. Since hand and mouth MNs were recorded in two partially overlapping sectors of the ventral precentral cortex of the macaque monkey, there is a general assumption that they share a same neuroanatomical network, with the parietal cortex as a main source of visual information. In the current review, we challenge this perspective and describe the connectivity pattern of mouth MN sector. The mouth MNs F5/opercular region is connected with premotor, parietal areas mostly related to the somatosensory and motor representation of the face/mouth, and with area PrCO, involved in processing gustatory and somatosensory intraoral input. Unlike hand MNs, mouth MNs do not receive their visual input from parietal regions. Such information related to face/communicative behaviors could come from the ventrolateral prefrontal cortex. Further strong connections derive from limbic structures involved in encoding emotional facial expressions and motivational/reward processing. These brain structures include the anterior cingulate cortex, the anterior and mid-dorsal insula, orbitofrontal cortex and the basolateral amygdala. The mirror mechanism is therefore composed and supported by at least two different anatomical pathways: one is concerned with sensorimotor transformation in relation to reaching and hand grasping within the traditional parietal-premotor circuits; the second one is linked to the mouth/face motor control and is connected with limbic structures, involved in communication/emotions and reward processing.
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