Creating a prosthetic device that feels like one’s own limb is a major challenge in applied neuroscience. We show that ownership of an artificial hand can be induced via electrical stimulation of the hand somatosensory cortex in synchrony with touches applied to a prosthetic hand in full view. These findings suggest that the human brain can integrate “natural” visual input and direct cortical-somatosensory stimulation to create the multisensory perception that an artificial limb belongs to one’s own body.Abstract
Replacing the function of a missing or paralyzed limb with a prosthetic device that acts and feels like one’s own limb is a major goal in applied neuroscience. Recent studies in nonhuman primates have shown that motor control and sensory feedback can be achieved by connecting sensors in a robotic arm to electrodes implanted in the brain. However, it remains unknown whether electrical brain stimulation can be used to create a sense of ownership of an artificial limb. In this study on two human subjects, we show that ownership of an artificial hand can be induced via the electrical stimulation of the hand section of the somatosensory (SI) cortex in synchrony with touches applied to a rubber hand. Importantly, the illusion was not elicited when the electrical stimulation was delivered asynchronously or to a portion of the SI cortex representing a body part other than the hand, suggesting that multisensory integration according to basic spatial and temporal congruence rules is the underlying mechanism of the illusion. These findings show that the brain is capable of integrating “natural” visual input and direct cortical-somatosensory stimulation to create the multisensory perception that an artificial limb belongs to one’s own body. Thus, they serve as a proof of concept that electrical brain stimulation can be used to “bypass” the peripheral nervous system to induce multisensory illusions and ownership of artificial body parts, which has important implications for patients who lack peripheral sensory input due to spinal cord or nerve lesions.