Plasticity of Primary Somatosensory Cortex Paralleling Sensorimotor Skill Recovery From Stroke in Adult Monkeys
Adult owl and squirrel monkeys were trained to master a small-object retrieval sensorimotor skill. Behavioral observations along with positive changes in the cortical area 3b representations of specific skin surfaces implicated specific glabrous finger inputs as important contributors to skill acquisition. The area 3b zones over which behaviorally important surfaces were represented were destroyed by microlesions, which resulted in a degradation of movements that had been developed in the earlier skill acquisition. Monkeys were then retrained at the same behavioral task. They could initially perform it reasonably well using the stereotyped movements that they had learned in prelesion training, although they acted as if key finger surfaces were insensate.
However, monkeys soon initiated alternative strategies for small object retrieval that resulted in a performance drop. Over several- to many-week-long period, monkeys again used the fingers for object retrieval that had been used successfully before the lesion, and reacquired the sensorimotor skill. Detailed maps of the representations of the hands in SI somatosensory cortical fields 3b, 3a, and 1 were derived after postlesion functional recovery. Control maps were derived in the same hemispheres before lesions, and in opposite hemispheres.
Among other findings, these studies revealed the following
1) there was a postlesion reemergence of the representation of the fingertips engaged in the behavior in novel locations in area 3b in two of five monkeys and a less substantial change in the representation of the hand in the intact parts of area 3b in three of five monkeys.
2) There was a striking emergence of a new representation of the cutaneous fingertips in area 3a in four of five monkeys, predominantly within zones that had formerly been excited only by proprioceptive inputs. This new cutaneous fingertip representation disproportionately represented behaviorally crucial fingertips.
3) There was an approximately two times enlargement of the representation of the fingers recorded in cortical area 1 in postlesion monkeys. The specific finger surfaces employed in small-object retrieval were differentially enlarged in representation.
4) Multiple-digit receptive fields were recorded at a majority of emergent, cutaneous area 3a sites in all monkeys and at a substantial number of area 1 sites in three of five postlesion monkeys. Such fields were uncommon in area 1 in control maps. 5
) Single receptive fields and the component fields of multiple-digit fields in postlesion representations were within normal receptive field size ranges.
6) No significant changes were recorded in the SI hand representations in the opposite (untrained, intact) control hemisphere. These findings are consistent with “substitution” and “vicariation” (adaptive plasticity) models of recovery from brain damage and stroke.