Corticospinal excitability during imagined and observed dynamic force production tasks: Effortfulness matters
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Research on motor imagery and action observation has become increasingly important in recent years particularly because of its potential benefits for movement rehabilitation and the optimization of athletic performance (Munzert et al., 2009). Motor execution, motor imagery, and action observation have been shown to rely largely on a similar neural network in motor and motor-related cortical areas (Jeannerod, 2001). Given that motor imagery is a covert stage of an action and its characteristics, it has been assumed that modifying the motor task in terms of, for example, effort will impact neural activity. With this background, the present study examined how different force requirements influence corticospinal excitability (CSE) and intracortical facilitation during motor imagery and action observation of a repetitive movement (dynamic force production). Participants were instructed to kinesthetically imagine or observe an abduction/adduction movement of the right index finger that differed in terms of force requirements. Trials were carried out with single- or paired-pulse transcranial magnetic stimulation. Surface electromyography was recorded from the first dorsal interosseous (FDI) and the abductor digiti minimi (ADM). As expected, results showed a significant main effect on mean peak-to-peak motor-evoked potential (MEP) amplitudes in FDI but no differences in MEP amplitudes in ADM muscle. Participants' mean peak-to-peak MEPs increased when the force requirements (movement effort) of the imagined or observed action were increased. This reveals an impact of the imagined and observed force requirements of repetitive movements on CSE. It is concluded that this effect might be due to stronger motor neuron recruitment for motor imagery and action observation with an additional load. That would imply that the modification of motor parameters in movements such as force requirements modulates CSE.
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