Reconstructing neural representations of tactile space

NeuroImage 229 (2021)
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Abstract

Psychophysical experiments have demonstrated large and highly systematic perceptual distortions of tactile space. Such a space can be referred to our experience of the spatial organisation of objects, at representational level, through touch, in analogy with the familiar concept of visual space. We investigated the neural basis of tactile space by analysing activity patterns induced by tactile stimulation of nine points on a 3 × 3 square grid on the hand dorsum using functional magnetic resonance imaging. We used a searchlight approach within pre-defined regions of interests to compute the pairwise Euclidean distances between the activity patterns elicited by tactile stimulation. Then, we used multidimensional scaling to reconstruct tactile space at the neural level and compare it with skin space at the perceptual level. Our reconstructions of the shape of skin space in contralateral primary somatosensory and motor cortices reveal that it is distorted in a way that matches the perceptual shape of skin space. This suggests that early sensorimotor areas critically contribute to the distorted internal representation of tactile space on the hand dorsum.

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