Background: Brain regions involved in processing somatosensory information have been well documented through lesion, post-mortem, animal, and more recently, structural and functional neuroimaging studies. Functional neuroimaging studies characterize brain activation related to somatosensory processing; yet a meta-analysis synthesis of these findings is currently lacking and in-depth knowledge of the regions involved in somatosensory-related tasks may also be confounded by motor influences. Objectives: Our Activation Likelihood Estimate (ALE) meta-analysis sought to quantify brain regions that are involved in the tactile processing of the right (RH) and left hands (LH) separately, with the exclusion of motor related activity. Methods: The majority of studies (n = 41) measured activation associated with RH tactile stimulation. RH activation studies were grouped into those which conducted whole-brain analyses (n = 29) and those which examined specific regions of interest (ROI; n = 12). Few studies examined LH activation, though all were whole-brain studies (N = 7). Results: Meta-analysis of brain activation associated with RH tactile stimulation (whole-brain studies) revealed large clusters of activation in the left primary somatosensory cortex (S1) and bilaterally in the secondary somatosensory cortex (S2; including parietal operculum) and supramarginal gyrus (SMG), as well as the left anterior cingulate. Comparison between findings from RH whole-brain and ROI studies revealed activation as expected, but restricted primarily to S1 and S2 regions. Further, preliminary analyses of LH stimulation studies only, revealed two small clusters within the right S1 and S2 regions, likely limited due to the small number of studies. Contrast analyses revealed the one area of overlap for RH and LH, was right secondary somatosensory region. Conclusions: Findings from the whole-brain meta-analysis of right hand tactile stimulation emphasize the importance of taking into consideration bilateral activation, particularly in secondary somatosensory cortex. Further, the right parietal operculum/S2 region was commonly activated for right and left hand tactile stimulation, suggesting a lateralized pattern of somatosensory activation in right secondary somatosensory region. Implications for further research and for possible differences in right and left hemispheric stroke lesions are discussed.
Keywords: ALE “activation likelihood estimation”; brain activation; hand; meta-analysis; secondary somatosensory cortex; sensation; touch.