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Brain. 2002 Jun;125(Pt 6):1265-74.

Whose arm is it anyway? An fMRI case study of supernumerary phantom limb.

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Wellcome Department of Cognitive Neurology, London, UK.


Under normal circumstances, information from a number of sources is combined to compute a unitary percept of the body. However, after pathology these influences may be perceived simultaneously, resulting in multiple dissociated conscious representations. In a recent paper, we described subject E.P., a right-handed female stroke patient with a right frontomesial lesion who sporadically experiences a supernumerary 'ghost' left arm that occupies the previous position of the real left arm after a delay of 60-90 s. We used a delayed response paradigm with functional MRI to examine the haemodynamic correlates of E.P.'s illusion. Comparison of periods of time during scanning when the ghost arm was present against when it was not revealed a single cluster (9 voxels, t = 5.11, P < 0.012 corrected for multiple comparisons) located on the right medial wall in the supplementary motor area ('SMA proper'). Our results suggest that areas traditionally classified as part of the motor system can influence the conscious perception of the body. We propose that, as a consequence of her injury, E.P. is aware of the position of the phantom limb in this 'action space' while also continuing to be aware of the true position of her real limb on the basis of afferent somatosensory information.

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