Putting somatosensation in context: exploring the cortical encoding of active touch
Dr James Kolasinski
Humans use touch as an active sense. Most of the touch sensation we feel is driven by our own movement, for example, running our fingertips along a surface to feel its texture. The regions of the brain responsible for controlling movement and touch are intimately linked. Mouse studies show that if specific movements and touch sensations are strongly associated, for example gripping a familiar object, the movement region of the brain can promote activity in the touch regions, even before we feel any information from touch. This is referred to as ’top-down’ control.
I will investigate, whether top-down control exists in regions of the human brain that control touch and what this particular signalling does. These studies will use MRI scanners and recordings of electrical activity in the brain using pads connected to the scalp with a water-based gel. This work will culminate in a study that projects touch information onto fingertips using ultrasound technology, aiming to enhance dexterity by experimentally changing associations between movement and touch.
The aim of understanding this top-down brain mechanism is to design interventions to rehabilitate impaired dexterity, commonly seen in older people and people who have had a stroke.