Somatotopic Mapping of the Developing Sensorimotor Cortex in the Preterm Human Brain

S Dall'Orso, J Steinweg, A G Allievi, A D Edwards, E Burdet, T Arichi

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

49 Citations (Scopus)
148 Downloads (Pure)


In the mature mammalian brain, the primary somatosensory and motor cortices are known to be spatially organized such that neural activity relating to specific body parts can be somatopically mapped onto an anatomical “homunculus”. This organization creates an internal body representation which is fundamental for precise motor control, spatial awareness and social interaction. Although it is unknown when this organization develops in humans, animal studies suggest that it may emerge even before the time of normal birth. We therefore characterized the somatotopic organization of the primary sensorimotor cortices using functional MRI and a set of custom-made robotic tools in 35 healthy preterm infants aged from 31 + 6 to 36 + 3 weeks postmenstrual age. Functional responses induced by somatosensory stimulation of the wrists, ankles, and mouth had a distinct spatial organization as seen in the characteristic mature homunculus map. In comparison to the ankle, activation related to wrist stimulation was significantly larger and more commonly involved additional areas including the supplementary motor area and ipsilateral sensorimotor cortex. These results are in keeping with early intrinsic determination of a somatotopic map within the primary sensorimotor cortices. This may explain why acquired brain injury in this region during the preterm period cannot be compensated for by cortical reorganization and therefore can lead to long-lasting motor and sensory impairment.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)2507-2515
Number of pages9
JournalCerebral Cortex
Issue number7
Early online date18 Apr 2018
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jul 2018


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