Vision of the Body Modulates Somatosensory Intracortical Inhibition

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The magnitude of somatosensory evoked potentials (SEPs) elicited by simultaneous electrical stimulation of adjacent digits is generally less than the sum of potentials evoked by stimulation of each digit individually. This under-additivity suggests suppression between representations of adjacent skin regions and may reflect a process of lateral inhibition by interneurons in somatosensory cortex. Given that simply viewing the body enhances tactile acuity and that tactile acuity depends on cortical lateral inhibition, we investigated how viewing the body modulates suppressive interactions between simultaneous afferent volleys from adjacent fingers. We recorded SEPs evoked by electrical stimulation of the right index and middle fingers, either individually or simultaneously, while participants viewed either their own hand or an object. In between trains of electrical stimuli, participants discriminated the orientation of tactile gratings applied to either finger. Consistent with previous findings, viewing the hand enhanced tactile acuity. Furthermore, viewing the hand increased the suppression of the P50 potential due to simultaneous electrical stimulation of both fingers. Moreover, the visual enhancement of tactile performance correlated across participants with the visual modulation of suppression. These results demonstrate that vision enhances somatosensation by modulating activity of inhibitory interneuronal circuits in the somatosensory cortex.

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