We measured somatosensory evoked fields (SEFs) to electric median nerve stimuli from eight healthy subjects with a whole-scalp 122-channel neuromagnetometer in two different conditions: (i) 'rest', with stimuli producing clear tactile sensation without any motor movement, and (ii) 'contraction' with exactly the same stimuli as in 'rest', but with the subjects maintaining sub-maximal isometric contraction in thenar muscles of the stimulated hand. The aim was to study the role of the primary (SI) and secondary somatosensory (SII) cortices in sensorimotor integration. The amplitude of the SI response N20m did not change with coincident isometric contraction, whereas P35m was significantly reduced. On the contrary, activation of contra- and ipsilateral SII cortices was significantly enhanced during the contraction. We suggest that isometric contraction facilitates activation of SII cortices to tactile stimuli, possibly by decreasing inhibition from the SI cortex. The enhanced SII activation may be related to tuning of SII neurons towards relevant tactile input arising from the region of the body where the muscle activation occurs.
Copyright 1998 Elsevier Science B.V.