Mu Rhythm and Corticospinal Excitability Capture Two Different Frames of Motor Resonance: A TMS-EEG Co-Registration Study

SOURCE: Cortex. 154:197-211, 2022 Sep.

Spaccasassi C; Zanon M; Borgomaneri S; Avenanti A

ABSTRACT: Humans are equipped with an extraordinary ability to understand and imitate actions by mapping the observed movement onto their own cortical motor system. Long-established lines of research have identified two correlates of this motor resonance following action observation: the mu rhythm event-related desynchronization (mu-ERD) recorded through electroencephalography (EEG) and the facilitation of motor evoked potentials (MEPs) induced by transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS) of the primary motor cortex (M1). Yet, whether mu-ERD and MEP facilitation reflect unique or distinct mechanisms is not conclusive, as prior work did not combine simultaneous TMS-EEG recording with a trial-by-trial analysis of the two markers. To address this issue, here, we used TMS-EEG co-registration while participants observed and executed finger movements. EEG was continuously recorded while single-pulse TMS was administered over the left M1 and MEPs were recorded from the right hand. We found stronger motor cortex recruitment during action execution and observation as shown by mu-ERD. MEPs instead were larger overall during action execution and showed a facilitation specific to the muscles involved in the observed movements. Interestingly, when analyzing these two parameters using a trial-by-trial statistical approach, we did not find any relationship between mu-ERD and MEPs within the action observation condition. Our
findings support the notion that EEG and TMS indices of motor resonance reflect distinct neural mechanisms.