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Somatosensory Cortex Efficiently Processes Touch Located Beyond the Body

Abstract : The extent to which a tool is an extension of its user is a question that has fascinated writers and philosophers for centuries [1]. Despite two decades of research [2-7], it remains unknown how this could be instantiated at the neural level. To this aim, the present study combined behavior, electrophysiology and neuronal modeling to characterize how the human brain could treat a tool like an extended sensory "organ." As with the body, participants localize touches on a hand-held tool with near-perfect accuracy [7]. This behavior is owed to the ability of the somatosensory system to rapidly and efficiently use the tool as a tactile extension of the body. Using electroencephalography (EEG), we found that where a hand-held tool was touched was immediately coded in the neural dynamics of primary somatosensory and posterior parietal cortices of healthy participants. We found similar neural responses in a proprioceptively deafferented patient with spared touch perception, suggesting that location information is extracted from the rod's vibrational patterns. Simulations of mechanoreceptor responses [8] suggested that the speed at which these patterns are processed is highly efficient. A second EEG experiment showed that touches on the tool and arm surfaces were localized by similar stages of cortical processing. Multivariate decoding algorithms and cortical source reconstruction provided further evidence that early limb-based processes were repurposed to map touch on a tool. We propose that an elementary strategy the human brain uses to sense with tools is to recruit primary somatosensory dynamics otherwise devoted to the body.
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Submitted on : Friday, January 3, 2020 - 11:09:00 AM
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Luke Miller, Cécile Fabio, Valeria Ravenda, Salam Bahmad, Eric Koun, et al.. Somatosensory Cortex Efficiently Processes Touch Located Beyond the Body. Current Biology - CB, Elsevier, 2019, 29 (24), pp.4276 - 4283. ⟨10.1016/j.cub.2019.10.043⟩. ⟨hal-02427059⟩

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