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"Revealing the neural fingerprints of a missing hand" - Kikkert, Kolasinski et al. 2016

We are pleased to announce the publication of a recent paper, by joint first authors James Kolasinski (JRF and post doc within the Physiological Neuroimaging Group) and Sanne Kikkert (DPhil student in the Hand and Brain Lab

The paper, "Revealing the neural fingerprints of a missing hand" was published in eLIFE and is available online here.

The paper describes how the brain ‘remembers’ a missing hand, even decades after amputation. It has been thought that the hand representation in the brain is maintained by regular sensory input from the hand. This paper shows however, that even though individuals didn’t have a physical hand for decades, and therefore did not receive any sensory input from that hand, their detailed representation of the missing hand was similar to that of two-handed control participants. This finding could have implications for the control of next generation prosthetics.

The team used an ultra-high power (7 Tesla) MRI scanner to study two people who had lost their left hand through amputation 25 and 31 years ago but who still experienced vivid phantom sensations, and eleven people who retained both hands and were right handed.  Each person was asked to move individual fingers on their left hand.

A full press release of the paper is available on the Oxford University website.  Further coverage of the paper can be found on The Conversation (piece written by Harriet Dempsey-Jones) and Neuroscience News.



The hand area of the primary somatosensory cortex contains detailed finger topography, thought to be shaped and maintained by daily life experience. Here we utilise phantom sensations and ultra high-field neuroimaging to uncover preserved, though latent, representation of amputees' missing hand. We show that representation of the missing hand's individual fingers persists in the primary somatosensory cortex even decades after arm amputation. By demonstrating stable topography despite amputation, our finding questions the extent to which continued sensory input is necessary to maintain organisation in sensory cortex, thereby reopening the question what happens to a cortical territory once its main input is lost. The discovery of persistent digit topography of amputees' missing hand could be exploited for the development of intuitive and fine-grained control of neuroprosthetics, requiring neural signals of individual digits.