Electrophysiological Processes on Motor Imagery Mediate the Association Between Increased Gray Matter Volume and Cognition in Amnestic Mild Cognitive Impairment

  • Jiu ChenEmail author
  • Yanna Yan
  • Lihua Gu
  • Lijuan Gao
  • Zhijun ZhangEmail author
Original Paper


Motor imagery is considered as an ideal window to observe neural processes of action representations. Behavioral evidence has indicated an alteration of motor imagery in amnestic mild cognitive impairment (aMCI). However, it still remains unclear on the altered neurophysiological processing mechanism of motor imagery and whether this mechanism links the abnormal biological basis of motor imagery with impaired cognition in aMCI. This study was to investigate the altered neurophysiological processing mechanism of motor imagery and to examine the relationships between this knowledge and the altered structural basis of motor imagery with impaired cognition in aMCI. A hand mental rotation paradigm was used to manipulate the processing of motor imagery while event-related brain potentials (ERPs) were recorded and gray matter (GM) voxel-based morphometry was performed in 20 aMCI and 29 healthy controls. Compared with controls, aMCI exhibited lower ERP amplitudes in parietal cortex and higher ERP amplitudes in frontal cortex during motor imagery. In addition, aMCI showed reduced GM volumes in cerebellum posterior lobe, insula and hippocampus/parahippocampal gyrus, and increased GM volumes in middle cingulate gyrus and superior frontal gyrus. Most importantly, increased ERP amplitude significantly mediated the association between increased GM and cognition. This study provided a novel evidence for the relationships between the electrophysiological processing mechanism and structural basis of motor imagery with impaired cognition in aMCI. It suggests that improving neural activity by stimulating the frontal lobe can potentially contribute to acquire motor imagery skills for neurological rehabilitation in aMCI subjects.


Amnestic mild cognitive impairment Motor imagery Event-related brain potential MRI Structural equation model Mediating effect 



This study was supported by the National Natural Science Foundation of China (Nos. 81420108012, 81500919, 81671046, and 81701675), the Disciplinary group of Psychology and Neuroscience, Xinxiang Medical University (No. 2016PNKFKT-01), the Nanjing Medical Science and Technology Development Foundation-Nanjing Outstanding Youth Fund Projects (No. JQX18005), the Cooperative Research Project of Southeast University-Nanjing Medical University (No. 2018DN0031), the Key Research and Development Plan (Social Development) Project of Jiangsu Province (No. BE2018608), and Humanities and Social Science Research Project of Henan Colleges and Universities (2017-ZZJH-423).

Compliance with Ethical Standards

Conflict of interest

All authors have made substantial intellectual contribution to this paper in one or more of the following areas that included design or conceptualization of the study, analysis or interpretation of the data, or drafting or revising the manuscript. All authors contributed to the work, agree with the presented findings, and declare that they have no conflicts of interest, financial or otherwise, directly or indirectly related to this work.

Supplementary material

10548_2019_742_MOESM1_ESM.docx (2.6 mb)
Supplementary material 1 (DOCX 2621 kb)


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Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of PsychologyXinxiang Medical UniversityXinxiangChina
  2. 2.Department of NeurologyAffiliated ZhongDa Hospital, School of Medicine, Southeast UniversityNanjingChina
  3. 3.Institute of NeuropsychiatryThe Affiliated Brain Hospital of Nanjing Medical University, Fourth Clinical College of Nanjing Medical UniversityNanjingChina

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