The sense of touch is fundamental for daily behavior. The aim of this work is to understand the neural network responsible for touch processing during a prolonged tactile stimulation, delivered by means of a mechatronic platform by passively sliding a ridged surface under the subject's fingertip while recording the electroencephalogram (EEG). We then analyzed: (i) the temporal features of the Somatosensory Evoked Potentials and their topographical distribution bilaterally across the cortex; (ii) the associated temporal modulation of the EEG frequency bands. Long-latency SEP were identified with the following physiological sequence P100-N140-P240. P100 and N140 were bilateral potentials with higher amplitude in the contralateral hemisphere and with delayed latency in the ipsilateral side. Moreover, we found a late potential elicited around 200 ms after the stimulation was stopped, which likely encoded the end of tactile input. The analysis of cortical oscillations indicated an initial increase in the power of theta band (4-7 Hz) for 500 ms after the stimulus onset followed a decrease in the power of the alpha band (8-15 Hz) that lasted for the remainder of stimulation. This decrease was prominent in the somatosensory cortex and equally distributed in both contralateral and ipsilateral hemispheres. This study shows that prolonged stimulation of the human fingertip engages the cortex in widespread bilateral processing of tactile information, with different modulations of the theta and alpha bands across time.
Keywords: Bilateral processing; EEG; SEPs; Somatosensory cortex; Touch.