Dynamic premotor-to-parietal interactions during spatial imagery

A.T. Sack*, C.J.H. Jacobs, F. de Martino, N.P.M.C. Staeren, R.W. Goebel, E. Formisano

*Corresponding author for this work

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The neurobiological processes underlying mental imagery are a matter of debate and controversy among neuroscientists, cognitive psychologists, philosophers, and biologists. Recent neuroimaging studies demonstrated that the execution of mental imagery activates large frontoparietal and occipitotemporal networks in the human brain. These previous imaging studies, however, neglected the crucial interplay within and across the widely distributed cortical networks of activated brain regions. Here, we combined time-resolved even-trelated functional magnetic resonance imaging with analyses of interactions between brain regions (functional and effective brain connectivity) to unravel the premotor-parietal dynamics underlying spatial imagery. Participants had to sequentially construct and spatially transform a mental visual object based on either verbal or visual instructions. By concurrently accounting for the full spatio-temporal pattern of brain activity and network connectivity, we functionally segregated an early from a late premotor-parietal imagery network. Moreover, we revealed that the modality-specific information upcoming from sensory brain regions is first sent to the premotor cortex and then to the medial-dorsal parietal cortex, i.e., top-down from the motor to the perceptual pole during spatial imagery. Importantly, we demonstrate that the premotor cortex serves as the central relay station, projecting to parietal cortex at two functionally distinct stages during spatial imagery. Our approach enabled us to disentangle the multicomponential cognitive construct of mental imagery into its different cognitive subelements. We discuss and explicitly assign these mental subprocesses to each of the revealed effective brain connectivity networks and present an integrative neurobiological model of spatial imagery.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)8417-8429
JournalJournal of Neuroscience
Issue number34
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jan 2008

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