Functional reorganization and stability of somatosensory-motor cortical topography in a tetraplegic subject with late recovery

Maurizio Corbetta, Harold Burton, Robert J. Sinclair, Thomas E. Conturo, Erbil Akbudak, John W. McDonald

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

72 Scopus citations


The functional organization of somatosensory and motor cortex was investigated in an individual with a high cervical spinal cord injury,a 5-year absence of nearly all sensory/motor function at and below the shoulders, and rare recovery of some function in years 6-8 after intense and sustained rehabilitation therapies. We used functional magnetic resonance imaging to study brain activity to vibratory stimulation and voluntary movements of body parts above and below the lesion. No response to vibratory stimulation of the hand was observed in the primary somatosensory cortex (SI) hand area, which was conversely recruited during tongue movements that normally evoke responses only in the more lateral face area. This result suggests SI reorganization analogous to previously reported neuroplasticity changes after peripheral lesions in animals and humans. In striking contradistinction, vibratory stimulation of the foot evoked topographically appropriate responses in SI and second somatosensory cortex (SII). Motor cortex responses, tied to a visuomotor tracking task, displayed a near-typical topography, although they were more widespread in premotor regions. These findings suggest possible preservation of motor and some somatosensory cortical representations in the absence of overt movements or conscious sensations for several years after spinal cord injury and have implications for future rehabilitation and neural-repair therapies.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)17066-17071
Number of pages6
JournalProceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America
Issue number26
StatePublished - Dec 24 2002
Externally publishedYes

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General


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