A wide range of observations suggest that sensory inputs play a significant role in dystonia. For example, the map of the hand representation in the primary sensory cortex (area 3b) is altered in monkeys with dystonia- like movements resulting from overtraining in a gripping task. We investigated whether similar reorganization occurs in the somatic sensory thalamus of patients with dystonia (dystonia patients). We studied recordings of neuronal activity and microstimulation-evoked responses from the cutaneous core of the human principal somatic sensory nucleus (ventral caudal, Vc) of 11 dystonia patients who underwent stereotactic thalamotomy. Fifteen patients with essential tremor who underwent similar procedures were used as controls. The cutaneous core of Vc was defined as the part of the cellular thalamic region where the majority of cells had receptive fields (RFs) to innocuous cutaneous stimuli. The proportion of RFs including multiple parts of the body was greater in dystonia patients (29%) than in patients with essential tremor (11%). Similarly, the percentage of projected fields (PFs) including multiple body parts was higher in dystonia patients (71%) than in patients with essential tremor (41%). A match at a thalamic site was said to occur if the RF and PF at that site included a body part in common. Such matches were significantly less prevalent in dystonia patients (33%) than in patients with essential tremor (58%). The average length of the trajectory where the PF included a consistent, cutaneous RF was significantly longer in patients with dystonia than in control patients with essential tremor. The findings of sensory reorganization in Vc thalamus are congruent with those reported in the somatic sensory cortex of monkeys with dystonia-like movements resulting from overtraining in a gripping task.
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