We describe a procedure useful to investigate the contralateral space perception deficits frequently encountered in patients with unilateral right brain damage. In particular, we focused on the phenomenon of extinction, i.e., the failure to perceive a contralesional stimulus only when a symmetrical contralateral stimulus is simultaneously applied. Fifteen right brain- and 15 left brain-damaged patients were examined. Somatosensory perception was evaluated by using a dedicated electronic device able to provide electrical stimuli of variable intensity to digits of one or both hands. The electrical stimulator was able to trigger a magnetic brain stimulator connected with a focal figure of eight coil. Threshold electrical stimuli were delivered to one or both hands of the patients, who were asked to indicate whether they perceived the stimulus (i) and to localise it (them). The electrical stimulator was connected with a magnetic stimulator with an interstimulus interval (ISI) of 40 msec (electrical stimulation preceding the transcranial one). Focal threshold transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS) was applied to frontal and parietal scalp sites of the unaffected hemisphere. At each interpulse interval we found that TMS of the unaffected hemisphere was associated to a decrease in the level of contralesional extinction. Our method demonstrates that a basic deficit underlying neglect and extinction of contralateral space in unilaterally brain damaged patients is the interhemispheric imbalance between the two hemispheres in directing contralateral attention. A transient interference with the function of the unaffected hemisphere can improve these deficits, suggesting a possible application of TMS in the daily clinical practice for speeding up recovery from neglect. Themes: Neural basis of behaviour. Topic: Cognition. Copyright (C) 2000 Elsevier Science B.V.
- Transcranial magnetic stimulation
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