Illusory movements prevent cortical disruption caused by immobilization

Neuroimage. 2012 Aug 1;62(1):510-9. doi: 10.1016/j.neuroimage.2012.05.016. Epub 2012 May 12.


Enforced limb disuse strongly disrupts the cortical networks that are involved in sensorimotor activities. This disruption causes a cortical reorganization that may be functionally maladaptive. In this study, we used functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) to investigate whether it is possible to prevent this reorganization by compensating for the lack of actual kinesthetic perception with illusory movements induced by "neuromimetic" proprio-tactile feedback that is artificially delivered during immobilization. Sixteen healthy volunteers were equipped for five days with full-hand ortheses that prevented them from performing finger and hand movements but allowed for kinesthetic and tactile sensations. Eight participants received a twice-daily proprio-tactile treatment consisting of the perception of kinesthetic sensations resembling those felt during actual movements generated by miniature vibrators set in the ortheses at the finger and wrist levels. Eight untreated participants received no stimulation. The effects of hand immobilization and treatment were assessed by fMRI during a calibrated voluntary hand movement task and hand tactile stimulation before cast placement and immediately after cast removal. We found that the sensorimotor network was preserved in subjects who underwent this treatment during hand immobilization, while the sensorimotor network of untreated subjects was significantly altered. These findings suggest that sensory feedback and associated movement perception may counteract disuse-induced cortical plastic changes through recruitment of a large part of the cortical network used for actual performed movement. The possibility of guiding cortical plasticity with proprioceptive augmented feedback is potentially relevant for rehabilitation efforts.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Brain / physiology*
  • Cues
  • Feedback, Sensory / physiology*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Illusions / physiology*
  • Imagination / physiology*
  • Immobilization / methods*
  • Male
  • Movement / physiology*
  • Nerve Net / physiology
  • Perceptual Masking / physiology*
  • Young Adult