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Somatotopic organization of gentle touch processing in the posterior insular cortex.

Journal article
Authors Malin Björnsdotter
Line Sofie Löken
Håkan Olausson
Åke Vallbo
Johan Wessberg
Published in The Journal of neuroscience : the official journal of the Society for Neuroscience
Volume 29
Issue 29
Pages 9314-20
ISSN 1529-2401
Publication year 2009
Published at Institute of Neuroscience and Physiology
Institute of Neuroscience and Physiology, Department of Clinical Neuroscience and Rehabilitation
Institute of Neuroscience and Physiology, Department of Physiology
Pages 9314-20
Language en
Keywords Adult, Afferent Pathways, physiology, Brain, physiology, Brain Mapping, Cluster Analysis, Female, Forearm, innervation, physiology, Humans, Magnetic Resonance Imaging, Male, Middle Aged, Nerve Fibers, Unmyelinated, physiology, Parietal Lobe, physiology, Physical Stimulation, Temporal Lobe, physiology, Thigh, innervation, physiology, Touch, physiology, Touch Perception, physiology, Young Adult
Subject categories Experimental brain research, Neurophysiology


A network of thin (C and A delta) afferents relays various signals related to the physiological condition of the body, including sensations of gentle touch, pain, and temperature changes. Such afferents project to the insular cortex, where a somatotopic organization of responses to noxious and cooling stimuli was recently observed. To explore the possibility of a corresponding body-map topography in relation to gentle touch mediated through C tactile (CT) fibers, we applied soft brush stimuli to the right forearm and thigh of a patient (GL) lacking A beta afferents, and six healthy subjects during functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI). For improved fMRI analysis, we used a highly sensitive multivariate voxel clustering approach. A somatotopic organization of the left (contralateral) posterior insular cortex was consistently demonstrated in all subjects, including GL, with forearm projecting anterior to thigh stimulation. Also, despite denying any sense of touch in daily life, GL correctly localized 97% of the stimuli to the forearm or thigh in a forced-choice paradigm. The consistency in activation patterns across GL and the healthy subjects suggests that the identified organization reflects the central projection of CT fibers. Moreover, substantial similarities of the presently observed insular activation with that described for noxious and cooling stimuli solidify the hypothesized sensory-affective role of the CT system in the maintenance of physical well-being as part of a thin-afferent homeostatic network.

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