Responsiveness of the somatosensory system after nerve injury and amputation in the human hand

Ann Neurol. 1994 Jul;36(1):68-75. doi: 10.1002/ana.410360114.


We studied the responsiveness of the somatosensory system in humans after prolonged deprivation of peripheral input. Eight patients with traumatic transection of the median or ulnar nerve and 6 patients with amputation of a finger or hand underwent microneurography and intraneural stimulation. Bundles of nerve fibers were electrically stimulated through a microelectrode placed in the affected nerve proximally to the site of damage or in the case of amputees, in a nerve fascicle supplying the stump. During intraneural stimulation the subjects with nerve injuries reported distinct percepts in the hypoesthetic skin. Their projections were usually confined to the territory of a single or two adjacent palmar digital nerves, similar to the fascicular territories of healthy nerves in control subjects, but there was much less microneurographically recordable afferent activity than in normal subjects. In amputees intraneural stimulation evoked sensations in a phantom digit or digits in over three fourths of the fascicles studied. We conclude that (1) the somatosensory system remains able to process information from a nerve fascicle that has lost its cutaneous territory, and (2) somatosensory localization remains accurate despite the presumed central reorganization that takes place after nerve division or amputation. This lack of functional adaptation has important implications with regard to our understanding of human central nervous system plasticity.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Amputation, Traumatic / physiopathology
  • Electric Stimulation
  • Finger Injuries / physiopathology
  • Fingers / innervation
  • Fingers / physiology
  • Hand / innervation*
  • Hand / physiology
  • Hand Injuries / physiopathology
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Median Nerve / injuries
  • Median Nerve / physiology*
  • Middle Aged
  • Nerve Regeneration / physiology
  • Neural Conduction / physiology
  • Neuronal Plasticity / physiology
  • Phantom Limb / physiopathology
  • Somatosensory Cortex / physiology*
  • Ulnar Nerve / injuries
  • Ulnar Nerve / physiology*