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Elife. 2019 Feb 5;8. pii: e37227. doi: 10.7554/eLife.37227.

Obtaining and maintaining cortical hand representation as evidenced from acquired and congenital handlessness.

Author information

Institute of Cognitive Neuroscience, University College London, London, United Kingdom.
Wellcome Centre for Integrative Neuroimaging, University of Oxford, Oxford, United Kingdom.
Brain and Mind Institute, University of Western Ontario, London, Canada.
Department of Computer Science, University of Western Ontario, London, Canada.
Unit for Visually Impaired People, Istituto Italiano di Tecnologia, Genoa, Italy.
Queen Mary's Hospital, London, United Kingdom.
Wellcome Centre for Human Neuroimaging, University College London, London, United Kingdom.
Contributed equally


A key question in neuroscience is how cortical organisation relates to experience. Previously we showed that amputees experiencing highly vivid phantom sensations maintain cortical representation of their missing hand (Kikkert et al., 2016). Here, we examined the role of sensory hand experience on persistent hand representation by studying individuals with acquired and congenital hand loss. We used representational similarity analysis in primary somatosensory and motor cortex during missing and intact hand movements. We found that key aspects of acquired amputees' missing hand representation persisted, despite varying vividness of phantom sensations. In contrast, missing hand representation of congenital one-handers, who do not experience phantom sensations, was significantly reduced. Across acquired amputees, individuals' reported motor control over their phantom hand positively correlated with the extent to which their somatosensory hand representation was normally organised. We conclude that once cortical organisation is formed, it is remarkably persistent, despite long-term attenuation of peripheral signals.


amputees; fMRI; human; neuroplasticity; neuroscience; sensory deprivation; somatosensory cortex

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