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The cortical somatotopic map and phantom phenomena in subjects with congenital limb atrophy and traumatic amputees with phantom limb pain


Correspondence: Niels Birbaumer, Institute of Medical Psychology and Behavioural Neurobiology, University of Tübingen, Gartenstr. 29, 72074 Tübingen, Germany. E-mail:


The extent of the cortical somatotopic map and its relationship to phantom phenomena was tested in five subjects with congenital absence of an upper limb, four traumatic amputees with phantom limb pain and five healthy controls. Cortical maps of the first and fifth digit of the intact hand, the lower lip and the first toe (bilaterally) were obtained using neuroelectric source imaging. The subjects with congenital upper limb atrophy showed symmetric positions of the left and right side of the lower lip and the first toe, whereas the traumatic amputees with pain showed a significant shift (about 2.4 cm) of the cortical representation of the lower lip towards the hand region contralateral to the amputation side but no shift for the toe representation. In healthy controls, no significant hemispheric differences between the cortical representation of the digits, lower lip or first toe were found. Phantom phenomena were absent in the congenital but extensive in the traumatic amputees. These data confirm the assumption that congenital absence of a limb does not lead to cortical reorganization or phantom limbs whereas traumatic amputations that are accompanied by phantom limb pain show shifts of the cortical areas adjacent to the amputation zone towards the representation of the deafferented body part.