Wednesday, January 26, 2022

Our brains have multiple representations of the same body part.

Here is a neat finding. Remember your elementary biology textbook picture of the homunculi in our somatosensory and motor cortices? The small human figure spread across the surface of the brain, with a cortical location for each part of the hand or other body part? Matsumiya shows that when we direct our eye and hand movements to the same body part these two movements are found to be guided by different body maps! Here is his abstract:  


Accurate motor control depends on maps of the body in the brain, called the body schema. Disorders of the body schema cause motor deficits. Although we often execute actions with different motor systems such as the eye and hand, how the body schema operates during such actions is unknown. In this study, participants simultaneously directed eye and hand movements to the same body part. These two movements were found to be guided by different body maps. This finding demonstrates multiple motor system–specific representations of the body schema, suggesting that the choice of motor system toward one’s body can determine which of the brain’s body maps is observed. This may offer a new way to visualize patients’ body schema.
Purposeful motor actions depend on the brain’s representation of the body, called the body schema, and disorders of the body schema have been reported to show motor deficits. The body schema has been assumed for almost a century to be a common body representation supporting all types of motor actions, and previous studies have considered only a single motor action. Although we often execute multiple motor actions, how the body schema operates during such actions is unknown. To address this issue, I developed a technique to measure the body schema during multiple motor actions. Participants made simultaneous eye and reach movements to the same location of 10 landmarks on their hand. By analyzing the internal configuration of the locations of these points for each of the eye and reach movements, I produced maps of the mental representation of hand shape. Despite these two movements being simultaneously directed to the same bodily location, the resulting hand map (i.e., a part of the body schema) was much more distorted for reach movements than for eye movements. Furthermore, the weighting of visual and proprioceptive bodily cues to build up this part of the body schema differed for each effector. These results demonstrate that the body schema is organized as multiple effector-specific body representations. I propose that the choice of effector toward one’s body can determine which body representation in the brain is observed and that this visualization approach may offer a new way to understand patients’ body schema.

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