Malleability of the cortical hand map following a finger nerve block


Electrophysiological studies in monkeys show that finger amputation triggers local remapping within the deprived primary somatosensory cortex (S1). Human neuroimaging research, however, shows persistent S1 representation of the missing hand’s fingers, even decades after amputation. Here, we explore whether this apparent contradiction stems from underestimating the distributed peripheral and central representation of fingers in the hand map. Using pharmacological single-finger nerve block and 7-tesla neuroimaging, we first replicated previous accounts (electrophysiological and other) of local S1 remapping. Local blocking also triggered activity changes to nonblocked fingers across the entire hand area. Using methods exploiting interfinger representational overlap, however, we also show that the blocked finger representation remained persistent despite input loss. Computational modelling suggests that both local stability and global reorganization are driven by distributed processing underlying the topographic map, combined with homeostatic mechanisms. Our findings reveal complex interfinger representational features that play a key role in brain (re)organization, beyond (re)mapping.

In Science Advances