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19.02.2021 | Original Article Open Access

Modulation of intracortical inhibition during physically performed and mentally simulated balance tasks

European Journal of Applied Physiology
A. Mouthon, J. Ruffieux, W. Taube
Wichtige Hinweise
Communicated by Bénédicte Schepens.

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Action observation (AO) during motor imagery (MI), so-called AO + MI, has been proposed as a new form of non-physical training, but the neural mechanisms involved remains largely unknown. Therefore, this study aimed to explore whether there were similarities in the modulation of short-interval intracortical inhibition (SICI) during execution and mental simulation of postural tasks, and if there was a difference in modulation of SICI between AO + MI and AO alone.


21 young adults (mean ± SD = 24 ± 6.3 years) were asked to either passively observe (AO) or imagine while observing (AO + MI) or physically perform a stable and an unstable standing task, while motor evoked potentials and SICI were assessed in the soleus muscle.


SICI results showed a modulation by condition (F2,40 = 6.42, p = 0.009) with less SICI in the execution condition compared to the AO + MI (p = 0.009) and AO (p = 0.002) condition. Moreover, switching from the stable to the unstable stance condition reduced significantly SICI (F1,20 = 8.34, p = 0.009) during both, physically performed (− 38.5%; p = 0.03) and mentally simulated balance (− 10%, p < 0.001, AO + MI and AO taken together).


The data demonstrate that SICI is reduced when switching from a stable to a more unstable standing task during both real task execution and mental simulation. Therefore, our results strengthen and further support the existence of similarities between executed and mentally simulated actions by showing that not only corticospinal excitability is similarly modulated but also SICI. This proposes that the activity of the inhibitory cortical network during mental simulation of balance tasks resembles the one during physical postural task execution.

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