Neural correlates of the rubber hand illusion in amputees: a report of two cases.
One of the current challenges in the field of advanced prosthetics is the development of artificial limbs that provide the user with detailed sensory feedback. Sensory feedback from our limbs is not only important for proprioceptive awareness and motor control, but also essential for providing us with a feeling of ownership or simply put, the sensation that our limbs actually belong to ourselves. The strong link between sensory feedback and ownership has been repeatedly demonstrated with the so-called rubber hand illusion (RHI), during which individuals are induced with the illusory sensation that an artificial hand is their own. In healthy participants, this occurs via integration of visual and tactile signals, which is primarily supported by multisensory regions in premotor and intraparietal cortices. Here, we describe a functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) study with two upper limb amputees, showing for the first time that the same brain regions underlie ownership sensations of an artificial hand in this population. Albeit preliminary, these findings are interesting from both a theoretical as well as a clinical point of view. From a theoretical perspective, they imply that even years after the amputation, a few seconds of synchronous visuotactile stimulation are sufficient to activate hand-centered multisensory integration mechanisms. From a clinical perspective, they show that a very basic sensation of touch from an artificial hand can be obtained by simple but precisely targeted stimulation of the stump, and suggest that a similar mechanism implemented in prosthetic hands would greatly facilitate ownership sensations and in turn, acceptance of the prosthesis.