Sensitivity to location and frequency of tactile stimuli is a characterizing feature of human primary (S1), and secondary (S2) somatosensory cortices. Recent evidence suggests that S1 is predominantly receptive to stimulus location, while S2 is attuned to stimulus frequency. Although it is well established in humans that tactile frequency information is relayed serially from S1 to S2, a recent study, using functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) in combination with dynamic causal modeling (DCM), suggested that somatosensory inputs are processed in parallel in S1 and S2. In the present fMRI/DCM study, we revisited this controversy and investigated the specialization of the human somatosensory cortical areas with regard to tactile stimulus representations, as well as their effective connectivity. During brain imaging, 14 participants performed a somatosensory discrimination task on vibrotactile stimuli. Importantly, the model space for DCM was chosen to allow for direct inference on the question of interest by systematically varying the information transmission from pure parallel to pure serial implementations. Bayesian model comparison on the level of model families strongly favors a serial, instead of a parallel processing route for tactile stimulus information along the somatosensory pathway. Our fMRI/DCM data thus support previous suggestions of a sequential information transmission from S1 to S2 in humans.Highlights
▸ We studied processing of vibrotactile stimuli in the human somatosensory cortex. ▸ Our data strongly favors a serial, rather than a parallel processing route. ▸ The somatosensory pathway is characterized by hierarchic specializations. ▸ Tactile stimulus location is predominantly represented in S1. ▸ Tactile stimulus frequency is predominantly represented in S2.