Viewing the body modulates tactile receptive fields
Haggard, P., Christakou, A. and Serino, A. (2007) Viewing the body modulates tactile receptive fields. Experimental brain research. Experimentelle Hirnforschung. Expérimentation cérébrale, 180 (1). pp. 187-193. ISSN 0014-4819
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To link to this article DOI: 10.1007/s00221-007-0971-7
Tactile discrimination performance depends on the receptive field (RF) size of somatosensory cortical (SI) neurons. Psychophysical masking effects can reveal the RF of an idealized "virtual" somatosensory neuron. Previous studies show that top-down factors strongly affect tactile discrimination performance. Here, we show that non-informative vision of the touched body part influences tactile discrimination by modulating tactile RFs. Ten subjects performed spatial discrimination between touch locations on the forearm. Performance was improved when subjects saw their forearm compared to viewing a neutral object in the same location. The extent of visual information was relevant, since restricted view of the forearm did not have this enhancing effect. Vibrotactile maskers were placed symmetrically on either side of the tactile target locations, at two different distances. Overall, masking significantly impaired discrimination performance, but the spatial gradient of masking depended on what subjects viewed. Viewing the body reduced the effect of distant maskers, but enhanced the effect of close maskers, as compared to viewing a neutral object. We propose that viewing the body improves functional touch by sharpening tactile RFs in an early somatosensory map. Top-down modulation of lateral inhibition could underlie these effects.