Rapid functional plasticity in the primary somatomotor cortex and perceptual changes after nerve block

Academic Article


  • The mature human primary somatosensory cortex displays a striking plastic capacity to reorganize itself in response to changes in sensory input. Following the elimination of afferent return, produced by either amputation, deafferentation by dorsal rhizotomy, or nerve block, there is a well-known but little-understood 'invasion' of the deafferented region of the brain by the cortical representation zones of still-intact portions of the brain adjacent to it. We report here that within an hour of abolishing sensation from the radial and medial three-quarters of the hand by pharmacological blockade of the radial and median nerves, magnetic source imaging showed that the cortical representation of the little finger and the skin beneath the lower lip, whose intact cortical representation zones are adjacent to the deafferented region, had moved closer together, presumably because of their expansion across the deafferented area. A paired-pulse transcranial magnetic stimulation procedure revealed a motor cortex disinhibition for two muscles supplied by the unaffected ulnar nerve. In addition, two notable perceptual changes were observed: increased two-point discrimination ability near the lip and mislocalization of touch of the intact ulnar portion of the fourth finger to the neighbouring third finger whose nerve supply was blocked. We suggest that disinhibition within the somatosensory system as a functional correlate for the known enlargement of cortical representation zones might account for not only the 'invasion' phenomenon, but also for the observed behavioural correlates of the nerve block.
  • Authors

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    Digital Object Identifier (doi)

    Author List

  • Weiss T; Miltner WHR; Liepert J; Meissner W; Taub E
  • Start Page

  • 3413
  • End Page

  • 3423
  • Volume

  • 20
  • Issue

  • 12