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Papers of the Week

Papers: 15 May 2021 - 21 May 2021

Human Studies




Intact tactile anisotropy despite altered hand perception in complex regional pain syndrome: rethinking the role of the primary sensory cortex in tactile and perceptual dysfunction.



Complex Regional Pain Syndrome (CRPS) is characterised by pain, autonomic, sensory and motor abnormalities. It is associated with changes in the primary somatosensory cortex (S1 representation), reductions in tactile sensitivity (tested by two-point discrimination), and alterations in perceived hand size or shape (hand perception). The frequent co-occurrence of these three phenomena has led to the assumption that S1 changes underlie tactile sensitivity and perceptual disturbances. However, studies underpinning such a presumed relationship use tactile sensitivity paradigms that involve the processing of both non-spatial and spatial cues. Here, we used a task that evaluates anisotropy (i.e., orientation-dependency; a feature of peripheral and S1 representation) to interrogate spatial processing of tactile input in CRPS and its relation to hand perception. People with upper limb CRPS ( = 14) and controls with ( = 15) or without pain ( = 19) judged tactile distances between stimuli-pairs applied across and along the back of either hand to provide measures of tactile anisotropy. Hand perception was evaluated using a visual scaling task and questionnaires. Data were analysed with generalised estimating equations. Contrary to our hypotheses, tactile anisotropy was bilaterally preserved in CRPS, and the magnitude of anisotropic perception bias was comparable between groups. Hand perception was distorted in CRPS but not related to the magnitude of anisotropy or bias. Our results suggest against impairments in spatial processing of tactile input, and by implication S1 representation, as the cause of distorted hand perception in CRPS. Further work is warranted to elucidate the mechanisms of somatosensory dysfunction and distorted hand perception in CRPS.