Studies on action observation mostly described the activation of a network of cortical areas, while less investigation focused specifically on the activation and role of subcortical nodes. In the present fMRI study, we investigated the recruitment of cerebellum and basal ganglia during the execution and observation of object manipulation performed with the right hand. The observation conditions consisted in: (a) observation of manipulative actions; (b) observation of sequences of random finger movements. In the execution conditions, participants had to perform the same actions or movements as in (a) and (b), respectively. The results of conjunction analysis showed significant shared activations during both observation and execution of manipulation in several subcortical structures, including: (1) cerebellar lobules V, VI, crus I, VIIIa and VIIIb (bilaterally); (2) globus pallidus, bilaterally, and left subthalamic nucleus; (3) red nucleus (bilaterally) and left thalamus. These findings support the hypothesis that the action observation/execution network also involves subcortical structures, such as cerebellum and basal ganglia, forming an integrated network. This suggests possible mechanisms, involving these subcortical structures, underlying learning of new motor skills, through action observation and imitation.
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