BDNF Val(66)Met Polymorphism Influences Visuomotor Associative Learning and the Sensitivity to Action Observation
De Beaumont, Louis
Chagnon, Yvon C.
Jackson, Philip L.
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Motor representations in the human mirror neuron system are tuned to respond to specific observed actions. This ability is widely believed to be influenced by genetic factors, but no study has reported a genetic variant affecting this system so far. One possibility is that genetic variants might interact with visuomotor associative learning to configure the system to respond to novel observed actions. In this perspective, we conducted a candidate gene study on the Brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF) Val(66)Met polymorphism, a genetic variant linked to motor learning in regions of the mirror neuron system, and tested the effect of this polymorphism on motor facilitation and visuomotor associative learning. In a single-pulse TMS study carried on 16 Met (Val/Met and Met/Met) and 16 Val/Val participants selected from a large pool of healthy volunteers, Met participants showed significantly less muscle-specific corticospinal sensitivity during action observation, as well as reduced visuomotor associative learning, compared to Val homozygotes. These results are the first evidence of a genetic variant tuning sensitivity to action observation and bring to light the importance of considering the intricate relation between genetics and associative learning in order to further understand the origin and function of the human mirror neuron system.