Differential effects of synchronous and asynchronous multifinger coactivation on human tactile performance

BMC Neurosci. 2007 Jul 30;8:58. doi: 10.1186/1471-2202-8-58.


Background: Repeated execution of a tactile task enhances task performance. In the present study we sought to improve tactile performance with unattended activation-based learning processes (i.e., focused stimulation of dermal receptors evoking neural coactivation (CA)). Previous studies show that the application of CA to a single finger reduced the stationary two-point discrimination threshold and significantly increased tactile acuity. These changes were accompanied by an expansion of the cortical finger representation in primary somatosensory cortex (SI). Here we investigated the effect of different types of multifinger CA on the tactile performance of each finger of the right hand.

Results: Synchronous and asynchronous CA was applied to all fingers of a subject's dominant hand. We evaluated changes in absolute touch thresholds, static two-point discrimination thresholds, and mislocalization of tactile stimuli to the fingertips. After synchronous CA, tactile acuity improved (i.e., discrimination thresholds decreased) and the frequency of mislocalization of tactile stimuli changed from directly neighboring fingers to more distant fingers. On the other hand, asynchronous CA did not significant improve tactile acuity. In fact, there was evidence of impaired tactile acuity. Multifinger CA with synchronous or asynchronous stimulation did not significantly alter absolute touch thresholds.

Conclusion: Our results demonstrate that it is possible to extend tactile CA to all fingers of a hand. The observed changes in mislocalization of tactile stimuli after synchronous CA indicate changes in the topography of the cortical hand representation. Although single-finger CA has been shown to improve tactile acuity, asynchronous CA of all fingers of the hand had the opposite effect, suggesting the need for synchrony in multifinger CA for improving tactile acuity.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Analysis of Variance
  • Discrimination, Psychological / physiology*
  • Female
  • Fingers / innervation*
  • Functional Laterality
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Physical Stimulation
  • Psychomotor Performance / physiology*
  • Psychophysics / methods
  • Sensory Thresholds / physiology*
  • Task Performance and Analysis
  • Touch / physiology*