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The cause of pain in a phantom limb after partial or complete deafferentation is an important problem. A popular but increasingly controversial theory is that it results from maladaptive reorganization of the sensorimotor cortex, suggesting that experimental induction of further reorganization should affect the pain, especially if it results in functional restoration. Here we use a brain-machine interface (BMI) based on real-time magnetoencephalography signals to reconstruct affected hand movements with a robotic hand. BMI training induces significant plasticity in the sensorimotor cortex, manifested as improved discriminability of movement information and enhanced prosthetic control. Contrary to our expectation that functional restoration would reduce pain, the BMI training with the phantom hand intensifies the pain. In contrast, BMI training designed to dissociate the prosthetic and phantom hands actually reduces pain. These results reveal a functional relevance between sensorimotor cortical plasticity and pain, and may provide a novel treatment with BMI neurofeedback.

Original publication




Journal article


Nat Commun

Publication Date





Adult, Brachial Plexus Neuropathies, Brain-Computer Interfaces, Humans, Magnetoencephalography, Male, Middle Aged, Neurofeedback, Neuronal Plasticity, Pain Management, Phantom Limb, Prostheses and Implants, Sensorimotor Cortex