Bi-hemispheric effects on corticospinal excitability induced by repeated sessions of imagery versus observation of actions.
PURPOSE: To investigate whether repeated sessions of motor imagery and action observation modulate corticospinal excitability (CE) over time, whether these processes are susceptible of any training effect and if such effect might be different for the dominant and non dominant hemisphere. METHODS: 11 subjects underwent three sessions, spaced 5-7 days, of single-pulse Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation (TMS) of right and left primary motor cortex. Subjects were asked to imagine or observe pinch-grip actions with either hand. Motor evoked potentials (MEPs) were recorded bilaterally from the First Dorsal Interosseus muscle (FDI), acting as main agonist during precision grip. RESULTS: Motor imagery consistently enhanced CE with respect to action observation, regardless of hemispheric lateralization and of separate testing sessions. However, motor imagery increased CE only when measured over the non-dominant hemisphere, during the third session with respect to the first one. The increase of CE induced by action observation in the first session was not further modified throughout the remaining two sessions, in either hemisphere. CONCLUSIONS: Results suggest that motor imagery is sustained by a cortical network susceptible to training effects only for the non-dominant hemisphere. Such an effect was lacking for action observation, likely because of the innateness of these mechanisms. Results might have implications for rehabilitative purposes.