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Brain Res. 1994 Apr 11;642(1-2):169-77.

Short-term brain 'plasticity' in humans: transient finger representation changes in sensory cortex somatotopy following ischemic anesthesia.

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Divisione di Neurologia-Ospedale, Fatebenefratelli, Isola Tiberina, Rome, Italy.


Transient rearrangements of finger representation in primary somatosensory cortex induced by an anesthetic block of the sensory information from adjacent fingers have been shown invasively in animals. Such a phenomenon has been now replicated in seven healthy human volunteers. Somatosensory Evoked Fields (SEFs) have been recorded during separate electrical stimulation of the 1st, 3rd, or 5th finger. Recordings were obtained in control conditions (stage A), following complete ischemic anesthesia of the 4 non-stimulated fingers (stage B), and after regaining sensation (stage C). SEFs were recorded using a 28-channel DC-SQUID magnetometer; a single position of the sensor was enough to identify the source of N20m, P30m and following components using the Equivalent Current Dipole (ECD) model. The amount of afferent input during stages A through C was monitored with surface electrodes placed on the nerve at wrist and elbow. No variation of the nerve compound potential was observed during stages A through C. In stage A, the localizing algorithm was able to discriminate the individual finger representation in accordance with the somatotopic organisation of the sensory homunculus. It was observed that the ECDs responsible for the cortical responses from the unanesthetized finger were significantly changing following a relatively brief period of sensory deprivation from the adjacent fingers. Such changes of the ECDs with respect to the control conditions were characterized by an increase in strength and deepening for the middle finger, and by a shift on the coronal plane for the thumb and the little finger (medial for the former, lateral for the latter). Such changes became progressively evident in stage B, but were persisting in stage C.

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