Functional Organization of Primary Somatosensory Cortex Depends on the Focus of Attention
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We used magnetic source imaging in human subjects to reveal within-subject variations of the homuncular hand representation within the primary somatosensory cortex modulated by attention. In one condition subjects were trained to detect sequential leftward or rightward stimulus motion across the fingers of the left hand ("hand" condition) and in a different condition to detect stimulus motion at a specific finger on this hand ("finger" condition). Afferent input was controlled by applying exactly the same stimulus pattern to the digits in the two tasks. Segregation of the somatotopic hand representation (an increase in the distance between the representations of digits 2 and 5) was observed, commencing with the onset of practice, in the finger relative to the hand condition. Subsequent training in the hand and finger conditions with feedback for correctness did not modify segregation, indicating that segregation was a task effect and not a training effect. These findings indicate that the hand representation within the primary somatosensory cortex is not statically fixed but is dynamically modulated by top-down mechanisms to support task requirements. A greater capacity for modulation of the functional cortical organization was positively correlated with superior learning and task performance.
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