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Does fMRI repetition suppression reveal mirror neuron activity in the human brain? Insights from univariate and multivariate analysis

Mirror neurons (MN) have been proposed as the neural substrate for a wide range of clinical, social and cognitive phenomena. Over the last decade, a commonly used tool for investigating MN activity in the human brain has been functional magnetic resonance (fMRI) repetition suppression (RS) paradigms. However, the available evidence is mixed, largely owing to inconsistent application of the methodological criteria necessary to infer MN properties. This raises concerns about the degree to which one can infer the presence (or absence) of MN activity from earlier accounts that adopted RS paradigms. We aimed to clarify this issue using a well-validated fMRI RS paradigm and tested for mirror properties by rigorously applying the widely accepted criteria necessary to demonstrate MN activity using traditional univariate techniques and Multivariate Pattern Analysis (MVPA). While univariate whole brain analysis in healthy adults showed uni-modal RS effects within the supplementary motor area, no evidence for cross-modal RS effects consistent with mirror neuron activity was found. MVPA on the other hand revealed a region along the anterior intraparietal sulcus that met the criteria for MN activity. Taken together, these results clarify disparate evidence from earlier RS studies, highlighting that traditional univariate analysis of RS data may not be sensitive for detecting MN activity when rigorously applying the requisite criteria. In light of these findings, we recommend that short of increasing sample sizes substantially, future studies using RS paradigms to investigate MNs across the human brain consider the use of MVPA.

History

Journal

European journal of neuroscience

Volume

50

Issue

5

Pagination

2877 - 2892

Publisher

Wiley

Location

Chichester, Eng.

ISSN

0953-816X

eISSN

1460-9568

Language

eng

Publication classification

C1 Refereed article in a scholarly journal

Copyright notice

2019, Federation of European Neuroscience Societies and John Wiley & Sons