CNS activation and regional connectivity during pantomime observation: no engagement of the mirror neuron system for deaf signers.

Laboratory for Language and Cognitive Neuroscience, San Diego State University, 6495 Alvarado Road, San Diego, CA 92120, USA.
NeuroImage (Impact Factor: 6.25). 09/2009; 49(1):994-1005. DOI: 10.1016/j.neuroimage.2009.08.001
Source: PubMed

ABSTRACT Deaf signers have extensive experience using their hands to communicate. Using fMRI, we examined the neural systems engaged during the perception of manual communication in 14 deaf signers and 14 hearing non-signers. Participants passively viewed blocked video clips of pantomimes (e.g., peeling an imaginary banana) and action verbs in American Sign Language (ASL) that were rated as meaningless by non-signers (e.g., TO-DANCE). In contrast to visual fixation, pantomimes strongly activated fronto-parietal regions (the mirror neuron system, MNS) in hearing non-signers, but only bilateral middle temporal regions in deaf signers. When contrasted with ASL verbs, pantomimes selectively engaged inferior and superior parietal regions in hearing non-signers, but right superior temporal cortex in deaf signers. The perception of ASL verbs recruited similar regions as pantomimes for deaf signers, with some evidence of greater involvement of left inferior frontal gyrus for ASL verbs. Functional connectivity analyses with left hemisphere seed voxels (ventral premotor, inferior parietal lobule, fusiform gyrus) revealed robust connectivity with the MNS for the hearing non-signers. Deaf signers exhibited functional connectivity with the right hemisphere that was not observed for the hearing group for the fusiform gyrus seed voxel. We suggest that life-long experience with manual communication, and/or auditory deprivation, may alter regional connectivity and brain activation when viewing pantomimes. We conclude that the lack of activation within the MNS for deaf signers does not support an account of human communication that depends upon automatic sensorimotor resonance between perception and action.

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