Artificial limb representation in amputees.
van den Heiligenberg FMZ., Orlov T., Macdonald SN., Duff EP., Henderson Slater D., Beckmann CF., Johansen-Berg H., Culham JC., Makin TR.
The human brain contains multiple hand-selective areas, in both the sensorimotor and visual systems. Could our brain repurpose neural resources, originally developed for supporting hand function, to represent and control artificial limbs? We studied individuals with congenital or acquired hand-loss (hereafter one-handers) using functional MRI. We show that the more one-handers use an artificial limb (prosthesis) in their everyday life, the stronger visual hand-selective areas in the lateral occipitotemporal cortex respond to prosthesis images. This was found even when one-handers were presented with images of active prostheses that share the functionality of the hand but not necessarily its visual features (e.g. a 'hook' prosthesis). Further, we show that daily prosthesis usage determines large-scale inter-network communication across hand-selective areas. This was demonstrated by increased resting state functional connectivity between visual and sensorimotor hand-selective areas, proportional to the intensiveness of everyday prosthesis usage. Further analysis revealed a 3-fold coupling between prosthesis activity, visuomotor connectivity and usage, suggesting a possible role for the motor system in shaping use-dependent representation in visual hand-selective areas, and/or vice versa. Moreover, able-bodied control participants who routinely observe prosthesis usage (albeit less intensively than the prosthesis users) showed significantly weaker associations between degree of prosthesis observation and visual cortex activity or connectivity. Together, our findings suggest that altered daily motor behaviour facilitates prosthesis-related visual processing and shapes communication across hand-selective areas. This neurophysiological substrate for prosthesis embodiment may inspire rehabilitation approaches to improve usage of existing substitutionary devices and aid implementation of future assistive and augmentative technologies.