Movement imitation via an abstract trajectory representation in dorsal premotor cortex

Aaron L. Wong, Steven A. Jax, Louisa L. Smith, Laurel J. Buxbaum, John W. Krakauer

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Humans are particularly good at copying novel and meaningless gestures. The mechanistic and anatomical basis for this specialized imitation ability remains largely unknown. One idea is that imitation occurs by matching body configurations. Here we propose an alternative route to imitation that depends on a body-independent representation of the trajectory path of the end-effector. We studied a group of patients with strokes in the left frontoparietal cortices. We found that they were equally impaired at imitating movement trajectories using the ipsilesional limb (i.e., the nonparetic side) that were cued either by an actor using their wholearmor just by a cursor, suggesting that body configuration information is not always critical for imitation and that a representation of abstract trajectory shape may suffice. In addition, imitation ability was uncorrelated to the ability to identify the trajectory shape, suggesting that imitation deficits were unlikely to arise from perceptual impairments. Finally, a lesion-symptom mapping analysis found that imitation deficits were associated with lesions in left dorsal premotor but not parietal cortex. Together, these findings suggest a novel body-independent route to imitation that relies on the ability to plan abstract movement trajectories within dorsal premotor cortex.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)3320-3331
Number of pages12
JournalJournal of Neuroscience
Issue number17
StatePublished - Apr 24 2019


  • Action planning
  • Apraxia
  • Imitation
  • Motor planning
  • Movement trajectories
  • Stroke

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Neuroscience(all)


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