Mirror neurons (MNs) in the inferior parietal lobule and ventral premotor cortex (PMv) can code the intentions of other individuals using contextual cues. Gaze direction is an important social cue that can be used for understanding the meaning of actions made by other individuals. Here we addressed the issue of whether PMv MNs are influenced by the gaze direction of another individual. We recorded single-unit activity in macaque PMv while the monkey was observing an experimenter performing a grasping action and orienting his gaze either toward (congruent gaze condition) or away (incongruent gaze condition) from a target object. The results showed that one-half of the recorded MNs were modulated by the gaze direction of the human agent. These gaze-modulated neurons were evenly distributed between those preferring a gaze direction congruent with the direction where the grasping action was performed and the others that preferred an incongruent gaze. Whereas the presence of congruent responses is in line with the usual coupling of hand and gaze in both executed and observed actions, the incongruent responses can be explained by the long exposure of the monkeys to this condition. Our results reveal that the representation of observed actions in PMv is influenced by contextual information not only extracted from physical cues, but also from cues endowed with biological or social value.
Mirror Neurons of Ventral Premotor Cortex Are Modulated by Social Cues Provided by Others' Gaze / Coudé, G; Festante, F; Cilia, A; Loiacono, V; Bimbi, M; Fogassi, L; Ferrari, Pf. - In: THE JOURNAL OF NEUROSCIENCE. - ISSN 0270-6474. - 36:11(2016), pp. 3145-3156. [10.1523/JNEUROSCI.3220-15.2016]
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