In order to characterize the neural generators of the brain oscillations related to motor imagery (MI), we investigated the cortical, subcortical, and cerebellar localizations of their respective electroencephalogram (EEG) spectral power and phase locking modulations. The MI task consisted in throwing a ball with the dominant upper limb while in a standing posture, within an ecological virtual reality (VR) environment (tennis court). The MI was triggered by the visual cues common to the control condition, during which the participant remained mentally passive. As previously developed, our paradigm considers the confounding problem that the reference condition allows two complementary analyses: one which uses the baseline before the occurrence of the visual cues in the MI and control resting conditions respectively; and the other which compares the analog periods between the MI and the control resting-state conditions. We demonstrate that MI activates specific, complex brain networks for the power and phase modulations of the EEG oscillations. An early (225 ms) delta phase-locking related to MI was generated in the thalamus and cerebellum and was followed (480 ms) by phase-locking in theta and alpha oscillations, generated in specific cortical areas and the cerebellum. Phase-locking preceded the power modulations (mainly alpha-beta ERD), whose cortical generators were situated in the frontal BA45, BA11, BA10, central BA6, lateral BA13, and posterior cortex BA2. Cerebellar-thalamic involvement through phase-locking is discussed as an underlying mechanism for recruiting at later stages the cortical areas involved in a cognitive role during MI.
Keywords: EEG; ERSP; ITC; motor-imagery; swLORETA; time-frequency.