Reorganization of motor and somatosensory cortex in upper extremity amputees with phantom limb pain

Anke Karl, Niels Birbaumer, Werner Lutzenberger, Leonardo G. Cohen, Herta Flor

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Phantom limb pain (PLP) in amputees is associated with reorganizational changes in the somatosensory system. To investigate the relationship between somatosensory and motor reorganization and phantom limb pain, we used focal transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS) of the motor cortex and neuroelectric source imaging of the somatosensory cortex (SI) in patients with and without phantom limb pain. For transcranial magnetic stimulation, recordings were made bilaterally from the biceps brachii, zygomaticus, and depressor labii inferioris muscles. Neuroelectric source imaging of the EEG was obtained after somatosensory stimulation of the skin overlying face and hand. Patients with phantom limb pain had larger motor-evoked potentials from the biceps brachii, and the map of outputs was larger for muscles on the amputated side compared with the intact side. The optimal scalp positions for stimulation of the zygomaticus and depressor labii inferioris muscles were displaced significantly more medially (toward the missing hand representation) in patients with phantom limb pain only. Neuroelectric source imaging revealed a similar medial displacement of the dipole center for face stimulation in patients with phantom limb pain. There was a high correlation between the magnitude of the shift of the cortical representation of the mouth into the hand area in motor and somatosensory cortex and phantom limb pain. These results show enhanced plasticity in both the motor and somatosensory domains in amputees with phantom limb pain.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)3609-3618
Number of pages10
JournalJournal of Neuroscience
Issue number10
Publication statusPublished - May 15 2001


  • Amputation
  • Cortical plasticity
  • Neuroelectric source imaging
  • Phantom limb pain
  • Sensorimotor reorganization
  • Transcranial magnetic stimulation

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Neuroscience(all)


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