Layer-Specific Contributions to Imagined and Executed Hand Movements in Human Primary Motor Cortex

Andrew S. Persichetti*, Jason A. Avery, Laurentius Huber, Elisha P. Merriam, Alex Martin

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review


The human ability to imagine motor actions without executing them (i.e., motor imagery) is crucial to a number of cognitive functions, including motor planning and learning, and has been shown to improve response times and accuracy of subsequent motor actions [1, 2]. Although these behavioral findings suggest the possibility that imagined movements directly influence primary motor cortex (M1), how this might occur remains unknown [3]. Here, we use a non-blood-oxygen-level-dependent (BOLD) method for collecting fMRI data, called vascular space occupancy (VASO) [4, 5], to measure neural activations across cortical laminae in M1 while participants either tapped their thumb and forefinger together or simply imagined doing so. We report that, whereas executed movements (i.e., finger tapping) evoked neural responses in both the superficial layers of M1 that receive cortical input and the deep layers of M1 that send output to the spinal cord to support movement, imagined movements evoked responses in superficial cortical layers only. Furthermore, we found that finger tapping preceded by both imagined and executed movements showed a reduced response in the super-ficial layers (repetition suppression) coupled with a heightened response in the deep layers (repetition enhancement). Taken together, our results provide evidence for a mechanism whereby imagined movements can directly affect motor performance and might explain how neural repetition effects lead to improvements in behavior (e.g., repetition priming).
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1721-1725.e3
Number of pages8
JournalCurrent Biology
Issue number9
Publication statusPublished - 4 May 2020


  • fmri
  • network
  • repetition
  • suppression
  • synchronization
  • vaso
  • FMRI
  • VASO

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