Neuronal bases of peripersonal and extrapersonal spaces, their plasticity and their dynamics: knowns and unknowns

Neuropsychologia. 2015 Apr:70:313-26. doi: 10.1016/j.neuropsychologia.2014.10.022. Epub 2014 Oct 24.


While space is perceived as unitary, experimental evidence indicates that the brain actually contains a modular representation of space, specific cortical regions being involved in the processing of extra-personal space, that is the space that is far away from the subject and that cannot be directly acted upon by the body, while other cortical regions process peripersonal space, that is the space that directly surrounds us and which we can act upon. In the present review, we focus on non-human primate research and we review the single cells, areal and cortical functional network mechanisms that are proposed to underlie extrapersonal and peripersonal space representations. Importantly, the current dominant framework for the study of peripersonal space is centered on the key notion that actions and specifically arm and hand-related actions, shape cortical peripersonal space representations. In the present review, we propose to enlarge this framework to include other variables that have the potential to shape peripersonal space representations, namely emotional and social information. In the initial section of the manuscript, we thus first provide an extensive up-to-date review of the low level sensory and oculomotor signals that contribute to the construction of a core cortical far and near space representation, in key parietal, premotor and prefrontal periarcuate cortical regions. We then highlight the key functional properties that are needed to encode peripersonal space and we narrow down our discussion to the specific parietal and periarcuate areas that share these properties: the parieto-premotor peripersonal space network and the parieto-premotor network for grasping. Last, we review evidence for a changing peripersonal space representation. While plastic changes in peripersonal space representation have been described during tool use and their underlying neural bases have been well characterized, the description of dynamical changes in peripersonal space representation as a function of the emotional or social context is quite novel and relies on behavioral human studies. The neural bases of such a dynamic adjustments of peripersonal space coding are yet unknown. We thus review these novel observations and we discuss their putative underlying neural bases.

Keywords: Dynamic; Extra-personal space; Far space; Intraparietal cortex; Near space; Parietal cortex; Peripersonal space; Prefrontal cortex; Premotor cortex.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Brain Mapping*
  • Cerebral Cortex / blood supply
  • Cerebral Cortex / physiology*
  • Emotions
  • Hand Strength
  • Humans
  • Neuroimaging
  • Personal Space*
  • Photic Stimulation
  • Sensation / physiology
  • Space Perception / physiology*