Modulating the motor system by action observation after stroke

Kathleen Alice GARRISON, LISA AZIZ-ZADEH, Wai Ho Savio WONG, Sook-Lei LIEW, Carolee Joyce WINSTEIN

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlespeer-review

59 Citations (Scopus)


Background and Purpose: Much recent interest surrounds the use of action observation, which is observing another individual performing a motor task, in stroke rehabilitation, to promote motor recovery by engaging similar brain regions to action execution. This may be especially useful in individuals with limited mobility. Here, we assess how cortical motor activity during action observation is affected by stroke and by stroke-related motor deficits.
Methods: We used functional MRI to compare brain activity during right and left hand action observation in right-handed nondisabled participants and participants who were right-handed before left hemisphere stroke. All participants performed the same actions after their functional MRI.
Results: Nondisabled participants show greater bilateral cortical motor activity when observing actions made using the left hand, whereas participants with stroke show greater ipsilesional cortical motor activity when observing actions made using the right (paretic) hand (P<0.05; corrected). For both groups, action processing is modulated by motor capability: cortical motor activity is greater when observing the hand with lower motor scores (P<0.05; corrected). Furthermore, for stroke, the extent of ipsilesional activity correlates with lesion volume (P=0.049), in a pattern that suggests adaptive plasticity.
Conclusions: We found that action observation activates specific motor plans in damaged motor circuits after stroke, and this activity is related to motor capability to perform the same actions. Cortical motor activity during action observation may be relevant to motor learning, and to motor relearning in stroke rehabilitation. Copyright © 2013 American Heart Association, Inc.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)2247-2253
Issue number8
Publication statusPublished - Jun 2013


Garrison, K. A., Aziz-Zadeh, L., Wong, S. W., Liew, S.-L., & Winstein, C. J. (2013). Modulating the motor system by action observation after stroke. Stroke, 44(8), 2247-2253.


  • Action observation
  • Mirror neuron system
  • Plasticity
  • Rehabilitation
  • Stroke


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