Tactile Toe Agnosia and Percept of a "Missing Toe" in Healthy Humans.
Cicmil N., Meyer AP., Stein JF.
A disturbance of body representation is central to many neurological and psychiatric conditions, but the mechanisms by which body representations are constructed by the brain are not fully understood. We demonstrate a directional disturbance in tactile identification of the toes in healthy humans. Nineteen young adult participants underwent tactile stimulation of the digits with the eyes closed and verbally reported the identity of the stimulated digit. In the majority of individuals, responses to the second and third toes were significantly biased toward the laterally neighboring digit. The directional bias was greater for the nondominant foot and was affected by the identity of the immediately preceding stimulated toe. Unexpectedly, 9/19 participants reported the subjective experience of a "missing toe" or "missing space" during the protocol. These findings challenge current models of somatosensory localization, as they cannot be explained simply by a lack of distinct representations for toes compared with fingers, or by overt toe-finger correspondences. We present a novel theory of equal spatial representations of digit width combined with a "preceding neighbor" effect to explain the observed phenomena. The diagnostic implications for neurological disorders that involve "digit agnosia" are discussed.