The Journal of neuroscience : the official journal of the Society for Neuroscience
URL with Digital Object Identifier
The integration of somatosensory signals across fingers is essential for dexterous object manipulation. Previous experiments suggest that this integration occurs in neural populations in the primary somatosensory cortex (S1). However, the integration process has not been fully characterized, as previous studies have mainly used 2-finger stimulation paradigms. Here, we addressed this gap by stimulating all 31 single- and multifinger combinations. We measured population-wide activity patterns evoked during finger stimulation in human S1 and primary motor cortex (M1) using 7T fMRI in female and male participants. Using multivariate fMRI analyses, we found clear evidence of unique nonlinear interactions between fingers. In Brodmann area (BA) 3b, interactions predominantly occurred between pairs of neighboring fingers. In BA 2, however, we found equally strong interactions between spatially distant fingers, as well as interactions between finger triplets and quadruplets. We additionally observed strong interactions in the hand area of M1. In both M1 and S1, these nonlinear interactions did not reflect a general suppression of overall activity, suggesting instead that the interactions we observed reflect rich, nonlinear integration of sensory inputs from the fingers. We suggest that this nonlinear finger integration allows for a highly flexible mapping from finger sensory inputs to motor responses that facilitates dexterous object manipulation.SIGNIFICANCE STATEMENT Processing of somatosensory information in primary somatosensory cortex (S1) is essential for dexterous object manipulation. To successfully handle an object, the sensorimotor system needs to detect complex patterns of haptic information, which requires the nonlinear integration of sensory inputs across multiple fingers. Using multivariate fMRI analyses, we characterized brain activity patterns evoked by stimulating all single- and multifinger combinations. We report that progressively stronger multifinger interactions emerge in posterior S1 and in the primary motor cortex (M1), with interactions arising between inputs from neighboring and spatially distant fingers. Our results suggest that S1 and M1 provide the neural substrate necessary to support a flexible mapping from sensory inputs to motor responses of the hand.