Restoring tactile awareness through the rubber hand illusion in cervical spinal cord injury

Lenggenhager, Bigna; Scivoletto, Giorgio; Molinari, Marco; Pazzaglia, Mariella (2013). Restoring tactile awareness through the rubber hand illusion in cervical spinal cord injury. Neurorehabilitation and neural repair, 27(8), pp. 704-708. Sage Publications 10.1177/1545968313491009

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BACKGROUND Bodily sensations are an important component of corporeal awareness. Spinal cord injury can leave affected body parts insentient and unmoving, leading to specific disturbances in the mental representation of one's own body and the sense of self. OBJECTIVE Here, we explored how illusions induced by multisensory stimulation influence immediate sensory signals and tactile awareness in patients with spinal cord injuries. METHODS The rubber hand illusion paradigm was applied to 2 patients with chronic and complete spinal cord injury of the sixth cervical spine, with severe somatosensory impairments in 2 of 5 fingers. RESULTS Both patients experienced a strong illusion of ownership of the rubber hand during synchronous, but not asynchronous, stroking. They also, spontaneously reported basic tactile sensations in their previously numb fingers. Tactile awareness from seeing the rubber hand was enhanced by progressively increasing the stimulation duration. CONCLUSIONS Multisensory illusions directly and specifically modulate the reemergence of sensory memories and enhance tactile sensation, despite (or as a result of) prior deafferentation. When sensory inputs are lost, and are later illusorily regained, the brain updates a coherent body image even several years after the body has become permanently unable to feel. This particular example of neural plasticity represents a significant opportunity to strengthen the sense of the self and the feelings of embodiment in patients with spinal cord injury.

Item Type:

Journal Article (Original Article)


04 Faculty of Medicine > University Psychiatric Services > University Hospital of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry and Psychotherapy > Research Division

UniBE Contributor:

Lenggenhager, Bigna


600 Technology > 610 Medicine & health




Sage Publications




Myriam Pyrlik

Date Deposited:

24 Apr 2014 09:48

Last Modified:

24 Apr 2014 09:48

Publisher DOI:


PubMed ID:


Uncontrolled Keywords:

body schema, mental representation, rubber hand illusion, sensory neuroplasticity, spinal cord injury rehabilitation, tactile discrimination


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