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Open Access Highly Accessed Research article

Spatiotemporal integration of tactile information in human somatosensory cortex

Zhao Zhu12, Elizabeth A Disbrow123, Johanna M Zumer1, David J McGonigle14 and Srikantan S Nagarajan1*

Author Affiliations

1 Biomagnetic Imaging Laboratory, Department of Radiology, University of California, San Francisco, San Francisco, CA, 94143-0628, USA

2 Center for Neuroscience, University of California, Davis, Davis, CA, 95616, USA

3 Department of Neurology, University of California, Davis, Davis, CA, 95616, USA

4 Center for Functional Imaging Studies, Western General Hospital, University of Edinburgh, Edinburgh, Scotland, EH4 2XU, UK

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BMC Neuroscience 2007, 8:21  doi:10.1186/1471-2202-8-21

Published: 14 March 2007



Our goal was to examine the spatiotemporal integration of tactile information in the hand representation of human primary somatosensory cortex (anterior parietal somatosensory areas 3b and 1), secondary somatosensory cortex (S2), and the parietal ventral area (PV), using high-resolution whole-head magnetoencephalography (MEG). To examine representational overlap and adaptation in bilateral somatosensory cortices, we used an oddball paradigm to characterize the representation of the index finger (D2; deviant stimulus) as a function of the location of the standard stimulus in both right- and left-handed subjects.


We found that responses to deviant stimuli presented in the context of standard stimuli with an interstimulus interval (ISI) of 0.33s were significantly and bilaterally attenuated compared to deviant stimulation alone in S2/PV, but not in anterior parietal cortex. This attenuation was dependent upon the distance between the deviant and standard stimuli: greater attenuation was found when the standard was immediately adjacent to the deviant (D3 and D2 respectively), with attenuation decreasing for non-adjacent fingers (D4 and opposite D2). We also found that cutaneous mechanical stimulation consistently elicited not only a strong early contralateral cortical response but also a weak ipsilateral response in anterior parietal cortex. This ipsilateral response appeared an average of 10.7 ± 6.1 ms later than the early contralateral response. In addition, no hemispheric differences either in response amplitude, response latencies or oddball responses were found, independent of handedness.


Our findings are consistent with the large receptive fields and long neuronal recovery cycles that have been described in S2/PV, and suggest that this expression of spatiotemporal integration underlies the complex functions associated with this region. The early ipsilateral response suggests that anterior parietal fields also receive tactile input from the ipsilateral hand. The lack of a hemispheric difference in responses to digit stimulation supports a lack of any functional asymmetry in human somatosensory cortex.