Arm-amputation involves two powerful drivers for brain plasticity-sensory deprivation and altered use. However, research has largely focused on sensory deprivation and maladaptive change. Here we show that adaptive patterns of limb usage after amputation drive cortical plasticity. We report that individuals with congenital or acquired limb-absence vary in whether they preferentially use their intact hand or residual arm in daily activities. Using fMRI, we show that the deprived sensorimotor cortex is employed by whichever limb individuals are over-using. Individuals from either group that rely more on their intact hands (and report less frequent residual arm usage) showed increased intact hand representation in the deprived cortex, and increased white matter fractional anisotropy underlying the deprived cortex, irrespective of the age at which deprivation occurred. Our results demonstrate how experience-driven plasticity in the human brain can transcend boundaries that have been thought to limit reorganisation after sensory deprivation in adults. DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.7554/eLife.01273.001.
deprivation, neuroimaging, plasticity, Adult, Amputation, Humans, Magnetic Resonance Imaging, Middle Aged, Neuronal Plasticity, Sensorimotor Cortex