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Sci Rep. 2019 Feb 21;9(1):2518. doi: 10.1038/s41598-019-39696-z.

Lower limb amputees undergo long-distance plasticity in sensorimotor functional connectivity.

Author information

1
D'Or Institute for Research and Education (IDOR), Rio de Janeiro, 22281-100, Brazil.
2
Institute of Biomedical Sciences, Federal University of Rio de Janeiro (UFRJ), Rio de Janeiro, 21941-902, Brazil.
3
Augusto Motta University (Unisuam), Rio de Janeiro, 21041-020, Brazil.
4
Rio de Janeiro State University (UERJ), Rio de Janeiro, 20550-900, Brazil.
5
D'Or Institute for Research and Education (IDOR), Rio de Janeiro, 22281-100, Brazil. fernanda.tovarmoll@idor.org.
6
Institute of Biomedical Sciences, Federal University of Rio de Janeiro (UFRJ), Rio de Janeiro, 21941-902, Brazil. fernanda.tovarmoll@idor.org.
7
National Centre for Structural Biology and Bioimaging, Federal University of Rio de Janeiro (UFRJ), Rio de Janeiro, 21941-902, Brazil. fernanda.tovarmoll@idor.org.

Abstract

Amputation in adults is associated with an extensive remapping of cortical topography in primary and secondary sensorimotor areas. Here, we used tactile residual limb stimulation and 3T functional magnetic resonance imaging in humans to investigate functional connectivity changes in the sensorimotor network of patients with long-term lower limb traumatic amputations with phantom sensation, but without pain. We found a pronounced reduction of inter-hemispheric functional connectivity between homologous sensorimotor cortical regions in amputees, including the primary (S1) and secondary (S2) somatosensory areas, and primary (M1) and secondary (M2) motor areas. We additionally observed an intra-hemispheric increased functional connectivity between primary and secondary somatosensory regions, and between the primary and premotor areas, contralateral to amputation. These functional connectivity changes in specialized small-scale sensory-motor networks improve our understanding of the functional impact of lower limb amputation in the brain. Our findings in a selective group of patients with phantom limb sensations, but without pain suggest that disinhibition of neural inputs following traumatic limb amputation disrupts sensorimotor topology, unbalancing functional brain network organization. These findings step up the description of brain plasticity related with phantom sensations by showing that pain is not critical for sensorimotor network changes after peripheral injury.

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