Dynamic organization of the somatosensory cortex induced by motor activity.
Braun C., Heinz U., Schweizer R., Wiech K., Birbaumer N., Topka H.
Intensive and long-lasting experience of altered sensory input induces permanent changes in the functional organization of the somatosensory cortex. In addition, an increasing body of evidence suggests the existence of dynamic, short-term and task-dependent adaptation of representational maps within somatosensory cortex. It is hypothesized that somatosensory maps can, not only, be acquired within a short period of time, but might also be set up during periods of training related to specific tasks and subsequently activated dynamically upon performance of that particular task. In order to test this hypothesis we studied the functional organization of somatosensory cortex for a heavily overlearned and frequently performed task for which no new acquisition of a sensory map had to be assumed. To this end, the functional organization of somatosensory cortex for handwriting was compared with the organization during rest in healthy humans. Functional organization of the somatosensory cortex was assessed using non-invasive, neuromagnetic source imaging based on tactile stimulation of the thumb (D1) and little finger (D5) during writing and rest. In different blocks, subjects wrote with their right, dominant and their left hand, respectively. During writing, D1 and D5 of the writing hand were stimulated. To test the reliability of our results all measurements were repeated after 1 week. It was found that amplitudes of somatosensory evoked magnetic fields with latencies of 45 ms were reduced during writing compared with rest. This finding is in accordance with the sensorimotor gating effect. Using source localization we could show that cortical representations of D1 and D5 are more distant during writing with either hand compared with rest. Our data suggest that somatosensory cortical maps undergo rapid modulation depending on task-specific involvement of sensory processing in daily-life overlearned movements. As it is unlikely that a new sensory map is always acquired when a frequently used task such as writing is performed, we suggest that somatosensory cortex switches between different, concurrently pre-existing maps depending on actual requirements. Task-dependent activation of pre-existing maps might be a powerful mechanism to optimize stimulus processing.