The distribution of mislocalizations across fingers demonstrates training-induced neuroplastic changes in somatosensory cortex

R. Schweizer, C. Braun, C. Fromm, A. Wilms, N. Birbaumer

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


The somatosensory system has been shown to alter its cortical activation patterns in reaction to changes in the attended sensory input to certain body parts. Whether these modifications in the functional organization of the somatosensory cortex of humans also result in perceptual changes has rarely been investigated. Here we used near-threshold tactile stimuli to the center of the fingertips to evoke mislocalizations to fingers other than the stimulated. In healthy untrained subjects, the distribution of the mislocalizations from each of the fingers was different from a distribution expected if the subjects were purely guessing the position of the stimulus. The digits next to the stimulated one receive a higher number of mislocalizations than digits further away from the stimulated digits. This decrease can be accounted for by digit-overlapping receptive fields in combination with the sequential representation of the digits in the primary somatosensory cortex. In a second experiment subjects received 20 h of simultaneous stimulation of the left thumb and little finger in the context of a perceptual task. For both hands, the distribution of mislocalization from these fingers was analyzed at the beginning and the end of the training. For the left hand, the number of assigned mislocalizations to the most distant neighbor digit (i.e., the simultaneously stimulated digit in the training) increased while the number of mislocalizations toward the direct neighboring digit decreased with the training. This change did not occur in the untrained right hand, or in the untrained subjects. We conclude that the distribution of mislocalization to fingers other than the stimulated can be used to investigate perceptual changes paralleling training-induced modifications in the activation patterns of the somatosensory cortex.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)435-442
Number of pages8
JournalExperimental Brain Research
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - 2001


  • Cortical plasticity
  • Human
  • Psychophysics
  • Reorganization
  • Sensory threshold
  • Somatosensory cortex
  • Tactile processing
  • Von Frey hair

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Neuroscience(all)


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