Grasping with a new hand: Improved performance and normalized grasp-selective brain responses despite persistent functional changes in primary motor cortex and low-level sensory and motor impairments

Neuroimage. 2019 Apr 15;190:275-288. doi: 10.1016/j.neuroimage.2017.09.052. Epub 2017 Sep 28.


Hand loss can now be reversed through surgical transplantation years or decades after amputation. Remarkably, these patients come to use their new hand to skilfully grasp and manipulate objects. The brain mechanisms that make this possible are unknown. Here we test the hypothesis that the anterior intraparietal cortex (aIPC) - a multimodal region implicated in hand preshaping and error correction during grasping - plays a key role in this compensatory grasp control. Motion capture and fMRI are used to characterize hand kinematics and brain responses during visually guided grasping with a transplanted hand at 26 and 41 months post-transplant in patient DR, a former hand amputee of 13 years. Compared with matched controls, DR shows increasingly normal grasp kinematics paralleled by increasingly robust grasp-selective fMRI responses within the very same brain areas that show grasp-selectivity in controls, including the aIPC, premotor and cerebellar cortices. Paradoxically, over this same time DR exhibits significant limitations in basic sensory and motor functions, and persistent amputation-related functional reorganization of primary motor cortex. Movements of the non-transplanted hand positively activate the ipsilateral primary motor hand area - a functional marker of persistent interhemispheric amputation-related reorganization. Our data demonstrate for the first time that even after more than a decade of living as an amputee the normative functional brain organization governing the control of grasping can be restored. We propose that the aIPC and interconnected premotor and cerebellar cortices enable grasp normalization by compensating for the functional impact of reorganizational changes in primary sensorimotor cortex and targeting errors in regenerating peripheral nerves.

Publication types

  • Case Reports
  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Biomechanical Phenomena
  • Brain Mapping*
  • Hand / physiopathology*
  • Hand Transplantation*
  • Humans
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Motor Activity / physiology*
  • Motor Cortex / diagnostic imaging
  • Motor Cortex / physiopathology*
  • Psychomotor Performance / physiology*