Experimental Brain Research

, Volume 237, Issue 3, pp 637–645 | Cite as

Time course of changes in corticospinal excitability induced by motor imagery during action observation combined with peripheral nerve electrical stimulation

  • Takahito Yasui
  • Tomofumi YamaguchiEmail author
  • Shigeo Tanabe
  • Tsuyoshi Tatemoto
  • Yoko Takahashi
  • Kunitsugu Kondo
  • Michiyuki Kawakami
Research Article


While previous studies assessed corticospinal excitability changes during and after motor imagery (MI) or action observation (AO) combined with peripheral nerve electrical stimulation (ES), we examined, for the first time, the time course of corticospinal excitability changes for MI during AO combined with ES (AO–MI + ES) using transcranial magnetic stimulation to measure motor evoked potentials (MEPs) in healthy individuals. Fourteen healthy volunteers participated in the following three sessions on different days: AO–MI alone, ES alone, and AO–MI + ES. In the AO–MI task, participants imagined squeezing and relaxing a ball, along with the respective actions shown in a movie, while passively holding the ball. We applied ES (intensity, 90% of the motor threshold) to the ulnar nerve at the wrist, which innervates the first dorsal interosseous (FDI) muscle. We assessed the FDI muscle MEPs at baseline and after every 5 min of the task for a total of 20 min. Additionally, participants completed the Vividness of Movement Imagery Questionnaire-2 (VMIQ-2) at the beginning of the experiment. Compared to baseline, AO–MI + ES significantly increased corticospinal excitability after 10 min, while AO–MI or ES alone had no effect on corticospinal excitability after 20 min. Moreover, the AO–MI + ES-induced cortical excitability changes were correlated with the VMIQ-2 scores for visual and kinaesthetic imagery. Collectively, our findings indicate that AO–MI + ES induces cortical plasticity earlier than does AO–MI or ES alone and that an individual’s imagery ability plays an important role in inducing cortical excitability changes following AO–MI + ES.


Motor imagery Action observation Peripheral nerve electrical stimulation Neural plasticity Rehabilitation 



This work was partially supported by grants from the Funds for a Grant-in-Aid for Young Scientists (15K16370 and 18K17723) to Tomofumi Yamaguchi and JSPS KAKENHI Grant Number JP16K19521 to Michiyuki Kawakami.

Compliance with ethical standards

Ethical approval

All procedures performed in studies involving human participants were in accordance with the ethical standards of the institutional and/or national research committee and with the 1964 Helsinki declaration and its later amendments or comparable ethical standards.

Informed consent

Informed consent was obtained from all individual participants included in the study.

Conflict of interest

The authors declare that they have no conflicts of interest.


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag GmbH Germany, part of Springer Nature 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  • Takahito Yasui
    • 1
  • Tomofumi Yamaguchi
    • 2
    • 3
    • 4
    • 5
    Email author
  • Shigeo Tanabe
    • 6
  • Tsuyoshi Tatemoto
    • 6
  • Yoko Takahashi
    • 1
    • 5
  • Kunitsugu Kondo
    • 1
  • Michiyuki Kawakami
    • 1
    • 5
  1. 1.Tokyo Bay Rehabilitation HospitalNarashino-shiJapan
  2. 2.Department of Physical TherapyYamagata Prefectural University of Health SciencesYamagata-shiJapan
  3. 3.JSPS Postdoctoral Fellow for Research AbroadTokyoJapan
  4. 4.Department of NeuroscienceUniversity of CopenhagenCopenhagen NDenmark
  5. 5.Department of Rehabilitation MedicineKeio University School of MedicineTokyoJapan
  6. 6.Faculty of Rehabilitation, School of Health SciencesFujita Health UniversityToyoake-shiJapan

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