eLife (Aug 2016)

Revealing the neural fingerprints of a missing hand

  • Sanne Kikkert,
  • James Kolasinski,
  • Saad Jbabdi,
  • Irene Tracey,
  • Christian F Beckmann,
  • Heidi Johansen-Berg,
  • Tamar R Makin

Journal volume & issue
Vol. 5


Read online

The hand area of the primary somatosensory cortex contains detailed finger topography, thought to be shaped and maintained by daily life experience. Here we utilise phantom sensations and ultra high-field neuroimaging to uncover preserved, though latent, representation of amputees’ missing hand. We show that representation of the missing hand’s individual fingers persists in the primary somatosensory cortex even decades after arm amputation. By demonstrating stable topography despite amputation, our finding questions the extent to which continued sensory input is necessary to maintain organisation in sensory cortex, thereby reopening the question what happens to a cortical territory once its main input is lost. The discovery of persistent digit topography of amputees’ missing hand could be exploited for the development of intuitive and fine-grained control of neuroprosthetics, requiring neural signals of individual digits.