Mirror neurons, first described in the rostral part of monkey ventral premotor cortex (area F5), discharge both when the animal performs a goal-directed hand action and when it observes another individual performing the same or a similar action. More recently, in the same area mirror neurons responding to the observation of mouth actions have been also found. In humans, through an fMRI study, it has been shown that the observation of actions performed with the hand, the mouth and the foot leads to the activation of different sectors of Broca's area and premotor cortex, according to the effector involved in the observed action, following a somatotopic pattern which resembles the classical motor cortex homunculus. These results strongly support the existence of an execution-observation matching system (mirror neuron system). It has been proposed that this system is involved in action recognition. Experimental evidence in favor of this hypothesis both in the monkey and humans are shortly reviewed.
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