The objective of the present study was to assess the spatiotemporal scenario of brain activity associated with sensory stimulation of the abductor pollicis brevis muscle. Spatiotemporal dipole models, using realistic individual boundary element head models, were built from somatosensory evoked potentials (SEPs; 64 Ch. EEG) to nonpainful and painful intramuscular electrostimulation (IMES) as well as to cutaneous electrostimulation delivered to the distal phalanx of the thumb. Nonpainful and painful muscle stimuli resulted in activation of the same brain regions. In temporal order, these were: the contralateral primary sensorimotor cortex, contralateral dorso-lateral premotor area (PM), bilateral operculo-insular cortices, caudal cingulate motor area (CMA), and posterior cingulate cortex/precuneus. Brain processing induced by muscle sensory input showed a characteristic pattern in contrast to cutaneous sensory input, namely: (1) no early SEP components to IMES; (2) an initial IMES component likely generated by proprioceptive input is not present for digit stimulation; (3) one source was located in the PM only for IMES. This source was unmasked by the lower stimulus intensity; (4) a source for IMES was located in the contralateral caudal CMA rather than being located in the cingulate gyrus. Cerebral sensory processing of input from the muscle involved several sensory and motor areas and likely occurs in two parallel streams subserving higher order somatosensory processing as well as sensory-motor integration. The two streams might on one hand involve sensory discrimination via SI and SII and on the other hand integration of sensory feedback for further motor processing via MI, lateral PM area, and caudal CMA.
- Intramuscular electrostimulation
- Realistic head model
- Source localization