Mirror neurons and the neural mechanisms of social intelligence in intractable epilepsy

Research project


The main objective of the present project is to produce cortical maps of social cognition in order to minimize the impact of neurosurgical treatment on social skills of patients affected by intractable epileptic seizures. These maps will be derived by two methodological procedures: 1) Behavioural testing of reflexive aspects of social cognition before and after surgical removal of the brain regions generating intractable epileptic seizures. The relationships between the resection of specific cortical tissue and post-surgical impairment of social skills will represent the first step toward a functional cortical mapping of social cognition in epilepsy patients. 2) Multi-scale neurophysiological evaluation of the embodied simulation mechanism, which relies on the "mirror neuron systems" and is thought to be at the basis of pre-reflexive immediate aspects of social cognition [1]. We will define the cortical regions having mirror neurons, thanks to the use of special intracranial electrodes giving the unique opportunity to record the event-related activities of both single neurons and small neural populations (intracerebral stereo EEG; iSEEG). Both single unit activity (SUA) and iSEEG, having a much higher spatial resolution than any brain imaging techniques, will allow the fine mapping of the areas subserving social cognition. A remarkable advantage of the recording system is that the neural data will be split into two streams, enabling us to carry on the research protocols without interrupting the standard clinical presurgical routine. The secondary objectives of this project are the following: 1) To test whether the amygdala neurons show "mirror" properties and whether they are involved in social cognition, as previously suggested (for a review see [2]). 2) To evaluate the role of the amygdala for social cognition in intractable epilepsy patients. 3) To provide a model of the relationships between single-unit activity and rhythmic oscillations of small neural populations for social cognition in intractable epilepsy patients. The comparison between signals coming from single units and from small neuronal populations recorded at the same site at the same moment will allow us to study to what extent the two signals carry different messages, still a very open question in the field of neuroscience.
Effective start/end date1/1/08 → …


  • Ministero della Salute


Mirror Neurons
Emotional Intelligence