To test the hypothesis that cortical remapping supports phantom sensations, we examined referred phantom sensations and cortical activation in humans after spinal-cord injury (SCI) at the thoracic level (T3-T12). Of 12 SCI subjects, 9 reported phantom sensations, and 2 reported referred phantom sensations. In both of these subjects, referred phantom sensations were evoked by contact in reference zones (RZ) that were not adjacent in the periphery and were not predicted to be adjacent in the postcentral gyrus (PoCG), suggesting that representations separated by centimeters of cortical space were simultaneously engaged. This finding was supported by functional MRI (fMRI). In a subject with a T6-level complete SCI, contact in RZ on the left or right forearm projected referred phantom sensations to the ipsilateral chest. During fMRI, contact in either forearm RZ evoked activity in the central PoCG (the position of the forearm representation) and the medial PoCG (the position of the chest representation) with ≥1.6 cm of nonresponsive cortex intervening. In contrast, stimulation in non-RZ forearm and palm regions in this subject and in lesion-matched SCI subjects evoked central but not medial PoCG activation. Our findings support a relation between PoCG activation and the percept of referred phantom sensations. These results, however, present an alternative to somatotopic cortical reorganization, namely, cortical plasticity expressed in coactivation of nonadjacent representations. The observed pattern suggests that somatotopic subcortical remapping, projected to the cortex, can support perceptual and cortical reorganization after deafferentation in humans
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