Obtaining and Maintaining Cortical Hand Representation as Evidenced From Acquired and Congenital Handlessness

Elife. 2019 Feb 5;8:e37227. doi: 10.7554/eLife.37227.


A key question in neuroscience is how cortical organisation relates to experience. Previously we showed that amputees experiencing highly vivid phantom sensations maintain cortical representation of their missing hand (Kikkert et al., 2016). Here, we examined the role of sensory hand experience on persistent hand representation by studying individuals with acquired and congenital hand loss. We used representational similarity analysis in primary somatosensory and motor cortex during missing and intact hand movements. We found that key aspects of acquired amputees' missing hand representation persisted, despite varying vividness of phantom sensations. In contrast, missing hand representation of congenital one-handers, who do not experience phantom sensations, was significantly reduced. Across acquired amputees, individuals' reported motor control over their phantom hand positively correlated with the extent to which their somatosensory hand representation was normally organised. We conclude that once cortical organisation is formed, it is remarkably persistent, despite long-term attenuation of peripheral signals.

Keywords: amputees; fMRI; human; neuroplasticity; neuroscience; sensory deprivation; somatosensory cortex.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Amputation
  • Female
  • Hand Deformities, Congenital
  • Hand*
  • Humans
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Motor Cortex / physiology*
  • Movement
  • Phantom Limb*
  • Somatosensory Cortex / physiology*