Effects of short-term training on sensory and motor function in severed nerves of long-term human amputees

J Neurophysiol. 2005 May;93(5):2625-33. doi: 10.1152/jn.00937.2004.


Much has been studied and written about plastic changes in the CNS of humans triggered by events such as limb amputation. However, little is known about the extent to which the original pathways retain residual function after peripheral amputation. Our earlier, acute study on long-term amputees indicated that central pathways associated with amputated peripheral nerves retain at least some sensory and motor function. The purpose of the present study was to determine if these functional connections would be strengthened or improved with experience and training over several days time. To do this, electrodes were implanted within fascicles of severed nerves of long-term human amputees to evaluate the changes in electrically evoked sensations and volitional motor neuron activity associated with attempted phantom limb movements. Nerve stimulation consistently resulted in discrete, unitary, graded sensations of touch/pressure and joint-position sense. There was no significant change in the values of stimulation parameters required to produce these sensations over time. Similarly, while the amputees were able to improve volitional control of motor neuron activity, the rate and pattern of change was similar to that seen with practice in normal individuals on motor tasks. We conclude that the central plasticity seen after amputation is most likely primarily due to unmasking, rather than replacement, of existing synaptic connections. These results also have implications for neural control of prosthetic limbs.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Afferent Pathways / physiopathology
  • Amputation*
  • Amputees
  • Analysis of Variance
  • Dose-Response Relationship, Radiation
  • Electric Stimulation / methods
  • Electrodes
  • Evoked Potentials / physiology
  • Evoked Potentials / radiation effects
  • Humans
  • Movement / physiology*
  • Neuronal Plasticity / physiology*
  • Phantom Limb / physiopathology*
  • Proprioception / physiology*
  • Psychometrics / methods
  • Sensory Thresholds
  • Time Factors