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Open Access Research article

Task-related enhancement in corticomotor excitability during haptic sensing with the contra- or ipsilateral hand in young and senior adults

Sabah Master13 and François Tremblay123*

Author Affiliations

1 School of Psychology, University of Ottawa, Vanier Hall, 136 Jean Jacques Lussier, Ottawa, Ontario, Canada K1N 6N5

2 School of Rehabilitation Sciences, University of Ottawa, Guindon Hall, 451 Smyth Rd., Ottawa, Ontario, Canada K1H 8M5

3 Élisabeth Bruyère Research Institute, 75 Bruyère St, Ottawa, Ontario, Canada K1N 5C8

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BMC Neuroscience 2012, 13:27  doi:10.1186/1471-2202-13-27

Published: 14 March 2012



Haptic sensing with the fingers represents a unique class of manipulative actions, engaging motor, somatosensory and associative areas of the cortex while requiring only minimal forces and relatively simple movement patterns. Using transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS), we investigated task-related changes in motor evoked potential (MEP) amplitude associated with unimanual haptic sensing in two related experiments. In Experiment I, we contrasted changes in the excitability of the hemisphere controlling the task hand in young and old adults under two trial conditions, i.e. when participants either touched a fine grating (smooth trials) or touched a coarse grating to detect its groove orientation (grating trials). In Experiment II, the same contrast between tasks was performed but with TMS applied over the hemisphere controlling the resting hand, while also addressing hemispheric (right vs. left) and age differences.


In Experiment I, a main effect of trial type on MEP amplitude was detected (p = 0.001), MEPs in the task hand being ~50% larger during grating than smooth trials. No interaction with age was detected. Similar results were found for Experiment II, trial type having a large effect on MEP amplitude in the resting hand (p < 0.001) owing to selective increase in MEP size (~2.6 times greater) for grating trials. No interactions with age or side (right vs. left) were detected.


Collectively, these results indicate that adding a haptic component to a simple unilateral finger action can elicit robust corticomotor facilitation not only in the working hemisphere but also in the opposite hemisphere. The fact that this facilitation seems well preserved with age, when task difficulty is adjusted, has some potential clinical implications.