Journal of neurophysiology
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Motor learning occurs not only through direct first-hand experience but also through observation (Mattar AA, Gribble PL. Neuron 46: 153-160, 2005). When observing the actions of others, we activate many of the same brain regions involved in performing those actions ourselves (Malfait N, Valyear KF, Culham JC, Anton JL, Brown LE, Gribble PL. J Cogn Neurosci 22: 1493-1503, 2010). Links between neural systems for vision and action have been reported in neurophysiological (Strafella AP, Paus T. Neuroreport 11: 2289-2292, 2000; Watkins KE, Strafella AP, Paus T. Neuropsychologia 41: 989-994, 2003), brain imaging (Buccino G, Binkofski F, Fink GR, Fadiga L, Fogassi L, Gallese V, Seitz RJ, Zilles K, Rizzolatti G, Freund HJ. Eur J Neurosci 13: 400-404, 2001; Iacoboni M, Woods RP, Brass M, Bekkering H, Mazziotta JC, Rizzolatti G. Science 286: 2526-2528, 1999), and eye tracking (Flanagan JR, Johansson RS. Nature 424: 769-771, 2003) studies. Here we used a force field learning paradigm coupled with resting-state fMRI to investigate the brain areas involved in motor learning by observing. We examined changes in resting-state functional connectivity (FC) after an observational learning task and found a network consisting of V5/MT, cerebellum, and primary motor and somatosensory cortices in which changes in FC were correlated with the amount of motor learning achieved through observation, as assessed behaviorally after resting-state fMRI scans. The observed FC changes in this network are not due to visual attention to motion or observation of movement errors but rather are specifically linked to motor learning. These results support the idea that brain networks linking action observation and motor control also facilitate motor learning.