Attending to and remembering tactile stimuli: a review of brain imaging data and single-neuron responses

J Clin Neurophysiol. 2000 Nov;17(6):575-91. doi: 10.1097/00004691-200011000-00004.


Clinical and neuroimaging observations of the cortical network implicated in tactile attention have identified foci in parietal somatosensory, posterior parietal, and superior frontal locations. Tasks involving intentional hand-arm movements activate similar or nearby parietal and frontal foci. Visual spatial attention tasks and deliberate visuomotor behavior also activate overlapping posterior parietal and frontal foci. Studies in the visual and somatosensory systems thus support a proposal that attention to the spatial location of an object engages cortical regions responsible for the same coordinate referents used for guiding purposeful motor behavior. Tactile attention also biases processing in the somatosensory cortex through amplification of responses to relevant features of selected stimuli. Psychophysical studies demonstrate retention gradients for tactile stimuli like those reported for visual and auditory stimuli, and suggest analogous neural mechanisms for working memory across modalities. Neuroimaging studies in humans using memory tasks, and anatomic studies in monkeys support the idea that tactile information relayed from the somatosensory cortex is directed ventrally through the insula to the frontal cortex for short-term retention and to structures of the medial temporal lobe for long-term encoding. At the level of single neurons, tactile (such as visual and auditory) short-term memory appears as a persistent response during delay intervals between sampled stimuli.

Publication types

  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Attention / physiology*
  • Brain Mapping* / methods
  • Cerebrovascular Circulation / physiology
  • Frontal Lobe / physiology*
  • Haplorhini
  • Humans
  • Memory / physiology*
  • Neurons / physiology*
  • Physical Stimulation
  • Somatosensory Cortex / physiology*
  • Touch / physiology*