Given ample evidence for shared cortical structures involved in encoding actions, whether or not subsequently executed, a still unsolved problem is the identification of neural mechanisms of motor inhibition, preventing "covert actions" as motor imagery from being performed, in spite of the activation of the motor system. The principal aims of the present study were the evaluation of: 1) the presence in covert actions as motor imagery of putative motor inhibitory mechanisms; 2) their underlying cerebral sources; 3) their differences or similarities with respect to cerebral networks underpinning the inhibition of overt actions during a Go/NoGo task. For these purposes, we performed a high density EEG study evaluating the cerebral microstates and their related sources elicited during two types of Go/NoGo tasks, requiring the execution or withholding of an overt or a covert imagined action, respectively. Our results show for the first time the engagement during motor imagery of key nodes of a putative inhibitory network (including pre-supplementary motor area and right inferior frontal gyrus) partially overlapping with those activated for the inhibition of an overt action during the overt NoGo condition. At the same time, different patterns of temporal recruitment in these shared neural inhibitory substrates are shown, in accord with the intended overt or covert modality of action performance. The evidence that apparently divergent mechanisms such as controlled inhibition of overt actions and contingent automatic inhibition of covert actions do indeed share partially overlapping neural substrates, further challenges the rigid dichotomy between conscious, explicit, flexible and unconscious, implicit, inflexible forms of motor behavioral control.
Angelini, M., Calbi, M., Ferrari, A., Sbriscia-Fioretti, B., Franca, M., Gallese, V., & Umiltà, M. A. (2015). Motor inhibition during overt and covert actions: An electrical neuroimaging study. PLoS ONE, 10(5). https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0126800