Determining the relationship between mechanisms involved in action planning and/or execution is critical to understanding the neural bases of skilled behaviors, including tool use. Here we report findings from two fMRI studies of healthy, right-handed adults in which an event-related design was used to distinguish regions involved in planning (i.e. identifying, retrieving and preparing actions associated with a familiar tools' uses) versus executing tool use gestures with the dominant right (experiment 1) and non-dominant left (experiment 2) hands. For either limb, planning tool use actions activates a distributed network in the left cerebral hemisphere consisting of: (i) posterior superior temporal sulcus, along with proximal regions of the middle and superior temporal gyri; (ii) inferior frontal and ventral premotor cortices; (iii) two distinct parietal areas, one located in the anterior supramarginal gyrus (SMG) and another in posterior SMG and angular gyrus; and (iv) dorsolateral prefrontal cortex (DLFPC). With the exception of left DLFPC, adjacent and partially overlapping sub-regions of left parietal, frontal and temporal cortex are also engaged during action execution. We suggest that this left lateralized network constitutes a neural substrate for the interaction of semantic and motoric representations upon which meaningful skills depend.
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