Influence of imagined posture and imagery modality on corticospinal excitability
Single pulse transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS) was used to test the assumption that kinesthetic imagery of action is more 'motor' than visual imagery of action. We assessed corticospinal excitability during motor imagery of a thumb-palm opposition movement by recording potentials evoked by TMS from two hand muscles that would (opponens pollicis, OP, target) or would not (abductor digiti minimi, ADM, control) be activated during actual performance of the very same movement. Participants were asked to imagine the thumb-palm opposition movement while maintaining first person imagery that was either purely visual or predominately kinesthetic. The motor imagery task was performed in two conditions in which the imagined and the actual hand could be either congruent or incongruent. Facilitation of potentials recorded from OP was higher during imagery carried out in mentally congruent than incongruent postures. This effect was largely due to lack of excitability recorded during incongruent kinesthetic imagery, which was indistinguishable from baseline imagery of the static hand. All other conditions differed from static imagery regardless of position. No significant effects were found in a control muscle (ADM) thus indicating that the effect was not related to spatial coding. Subjective reports obtained after the experiment indicate that the results cannot be ascribed to qualitative differences in the imagery experienced. For relatively simple motor tasks requiring no 'expertise' we found no detectable difference in the motor cortex due to imagery modality.