Brain activity elicited by viewing pictures of the own virtually amputated body predicts xenomelia

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Xenomelia is a rare condition characterized by the persistent desire for the amputation of physically healthy limbs. Prior studies highlighted the importance of superior and inferior parietal lobuli (SPL/IPL) and other sensorimotor regions as key brain structures associated with xenomelia. We expected activity differences in these areas in response to pictures showing the desired body state, i.e. that of an amputee in xenomelia.


Functional magnetic resonance images were acquired in 12 xenomelia individuals and 11 controls while they viewed pictures of their own real and virtually amputated body. Pictures were rated on several dimensions. Multivariate statistics using machine learning was performed on imaging data.


Brain activity when viewing pictures of one's own virtually amputated body predicted group membership accurately with a balanced accuracy of 82.58% (p = 0.002), sensitivity of 83.33% (p = 0.018), specificity of 81.82% (p = 0.015) and an area under the ROC curve of 0.77. Among the highest predictive brain regions were bilateral SPL, IPL, and caudate nucleus, other limb representing areas, but also occipital regions. Pleasantness and attractiveness ratings were higher for amputated bodies in xenomelia.


Findings show that neuronal processing in response to pictures of one's own desired body state is different in xenomelia compared with controls and might represent a neuronal substrate of the xenomelia complaints that become behaviourally relevant, at least when rating the pleasantness and attractiveness of one's own body. Our findings converge with structural peculiarities reported in xenomelia and partially overlap in task and results with that of anorexia and transgender research.

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