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Neurosurgery. 2001 Sep;49(3):736-41; discussion 741-2.

Virtual movements activate primary sensorimotor areas in amputees: report of three cases.

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Department of Neurosurgery, Hôpital Rangueil, Toulouse, France.



In our multidisciplinary pain clinic, three patients with amputated limbs and with surgical indications for chronic motor cortex stimulation for phantom limb pain were selected for their ability to voluntarily move the missing limb. The sensation of being able to move a missing limb at will occurs quite frequently among traumatic amputees, but the ability to control it sufficiently to perform a functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) examination is more rarely encountered. We used motor fMRI to study these virtual movements.


In two patients with upper-limb amputations, movements of the stump, the normal hand, and the missing arm were studied. In a third patient with both legs amputated, movements of the stumps and of the missing feet were studied. The fMRI data were analyzed with the Statistical Parametric Map 96 software and reformatted for integration into anatomic slices.


Virtual movements of the missing limbs produced contralateral primary sensorimotor cortex and central sulcus activations in the patients with upper-limb amputation. Interhemispheric and bilateral activations were found in the patient with both legs amputated. These activation areas were different from the stump activation areas. Additionally, the significance thresholds chosen to generate the activation maps in virtual movements (although individual) were globally the same as those used to detect motor activation in the normal side of the patients.


Cortical areas devoted to the missing limb seem to persist for several years after amputation. The precentral activations found in our patients are in agreement with the statement that the neural mechanisms involved in the mental representation of an action and in its execution are the same. Data from fMRI can be used to evaluate phantom limb virtual movements and to study cortical reorganization phenomena that can appear with time or as a result of some therapies. In these patients, fMRI data may be useful in assisting the neurosurgeon in the placement of chronic motor cortex electrodes.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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