Dynamic changes in somatosensory cortical maps are known to occur in experimental animals subjected to peripheral nerve transection or amputation. To study the sensory effects of central nervous system adaptation to temporary or permanent loss of input from a part of the hand, multimodality quantitative sensory tests were carried out in 11 patients with complete traumatic division and repair of the median or ulnar nerves and in six patients who had undergone amputation of one or more digits. As expected, vibration, two point discrimination, and tactile thresholds were raised in the territory of the injured nerve in a graded fashion, sensitivity being poorest in the patients with the most recent injuries. Surprisingly, localisation was better in the tips than at the base of the hypoaesthetic fingers, suggesting a central attentional gradient. Stimulus-response curves conformed to a power function whose exponent was higher in denervated than in normal skin. Changes in psychophysical functions were also discernible in the intact hand. There was no hyperaesthesia in the territory of the nerve adjacent to the injured one or in the stump in the case of amputees. Central factors contribute to the sensory changes seen after nerve injury, but the functional effects of the cortical reorganisation that follows partial deafferentation are more subtle than a simple heightening of sensitivity in the surrounding skin.
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