Cortical homunculus Homunculus Sensory and Motor Cortex

Cortical homunculus Homunculus Sensory and Motor Cortex

Cortical homunculus

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A 2-D cortical sensory homunculus

A cortical homunculus is a distorted representation of the human body, based on a neurological “map” of the areas and proportions of the human brain dedicated to processing motor functions, or sensory functions, for different parts of the body. The word homunculus is Latin for “little man”, and was a term used in alchemy and folklore long before scientific literature began using it. A cortical homunculus, or “cortex man”, illustrates the concept of heuristically representing the body lying within the brain. Nerve fibres from the spinal cord terminate in various areas of the parietal lobe in the cerebral cortex , which forms a representational map of the body.

Contents

  • 1 Types
  • 2 Arrangement
  • 3 Discovery
  • 4 Representation
  • 5 See also
  • 6 References
  • 7 External links

Types[ edit ]

A 2-D cortical motor homunculus

A motor homunculus represents a map of brain areas dedicated to motor processing for different anatomical divisions of the body. The primary motor cortex is located in the precentral gyrus , and handles signals coming from the premotor area of the frontal lobes . [1]

A sensory homunculus represents a map of brain areas dedicated to sensory processing for different anatomical divisions of the body. The primary sensory cortex is located in the postcentral gyrus , and handles signals coming from the thalamus . [1]

These signals are transmitted on from the gyri to the brain stem and spinal cord via corresponding nerves.

Arrangement[ edit ]

Along the length of the primary motor and sensory cortices, the areas specializing in different parts of the body are arranged in an orderly manner, although ordered differently than one might expect. The toes are represented at the top of the cerebral hemisphere (or more accurately, “the upper end”, since the cortex curls inwards and down at the top), and then as one moves down the hemisphere, progressively higher parts of the body are represented, assuming a body that’s faceless and has arms raised. Going further down the cortex, the different areas of the face are represented, in approximately top-to-bottom order, rather than bottom-to-top as before. The homunculus is split in half, with motor and sensory representations for the left side of the body on the right side of the brain, and vice versa. [2]

The amount of cortex devoted to any given body region is not proportional to that body region’s surface area or volume, but rather to how richly innervated that region is. Areas of the body with more complex and/or more numerous sensory or motor connections are represented as larger in the homunculus, while those with less complex and/or less numerous connections are represented as smaller. The resulting image is that of a distorted human body, with disproportionately huge hands, lips, and face.

In the sensory homunculus, below the areas handling sensation for the teeth, gums, jaw, tongue, and pharynx lies an area for intra-abdominal sensation. At the very top end of the primary sensory cortex, beyond the area for the toes, it has traditionally been believed that the sensory neural networks for the genitals occur. However, more recent research has suggested that there may be two different cortical areas for the genitals, possibly differentiated by one dealing with erogenous stimulation and the other dealing with non-erogenous stimulation. [3] [4] [5]

Discovery[ edit ]

3-D Sensory and Motor homunculus models at the Natural History Museum, London

Dr. Wilder Penfield and his co-investigators Edwin Boldrey and Theodore Rasmussen are considered to be the originators of the sensory and motor homunculi. They were not the first scientists to attempt to objectify human brain function by means of a homunculus. [5] However, they were the first to differentiate between sensory and motor function and to map the two across the brain separately, resulting in two different homunculi. In addition, their drawings and later drawings derived from theirs became perhaps the most famous conceptual maps in modern neuroscience because they compellingly illustrated the data at a single glance. [5]

Penfield first conceived of his homunculi as a thought experiment, and went so far as to envision an imaginary world in which the homunculi lived, which he referred to as “if”. He and his colleagues went on to experiment with electrical stimulation of different brain areas of patients undergoing open brain surgery to control epilepsy, and were thus able to produce the topographical brain maps and their corresponding homunculi. [5] [6]

More recent studies have improved this understanding of somatotopic arrangement using techniques such as functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI). [7]

Representation[ edit ]

Penfield referred to his creations as “grotesque creatures” due to their strange-looking proportions. For example, the sensory nerves arriving from the hands terminate over large areas of the brain, resulting in the hands of the homunculus being correspondingly large. In contrast, the nerves emanating from the torso or arms cover a much smaller area, thus the torso and arms of the homunculus look comparatively small and weak.

Penfield’s homunculi are usually shown as 2-D diagrams. This is an oversimplification, as it cannot fully show the data set Penfield collected from his brain surgery patients. Rather than the sharp delineation between different body areas shown in the drawings, there is actually significant overlap between neighboring regions. The simplification suggests that lesions of the motor cortex will give rise to specific deficits in specific muscles. However, this is a misconception , as lesions produce deficits in groups of synergistic muscles. This finding suggests that the motor cortex functions in terms of overall movements as coordinated groups of individual motions.

The sensorimotor homunculi can also be represented as 3-D figures (such as the sensory homunculus sculpted by Sharon Price-James shown from different angles below), which can make it easier for laymen to understand the ratios between the different body regions’ levels of motor or sensory innervation. However, these 3-D models do not illustrate which areas of the brain are associated with which parts of the body.

  • Sharon Price-James Sensory Homunculus from the side

  • Sharon Price-James Sensory Homunculus from the front

  • Sharon Price-James Sensory Homunculus from the back

See also[ edit ]

  • Homunculus
  • Somatotopic arrangement
  • Alice in Wonderland syndrome

References[ edit ]

  1. ^ a b Marieb, E., Hoehn, K. Human Anatomy and Physiology. 7th Ed. 2007. Pearson Benjamin Cummings: San Francisco.
  2. ^ Saladin, Kenneth (2007). Anatomy and Physiology: The Unity of Form and Function. McGraw Hill. p. 544-546
  3. ^ Covington, Jr., William Oates (2015-05-27). “Homunculus (Topographic) Diagram” . willcov.com. Archived from the original on 2017-07-03. Retrieved 2017-07-07.

  4. ^ “The Neurocritic: A New Clitoral Homunculus?” . 2009-08-10. Archived from the original on 2017-07-07. Retrieved 2017-07-07.
  5. ^ a b c d Cazala, Fadwa; Vienney, Nicolas; Stoléru, Serge (2015-03-10). “The cortical sensory representation of genitalia in women and men: a systematic review” . Socioaffective Neuroscience & Psychology. 5. doi : 10.3402/snp.v5.26428 . ISSN   2000-9011 . PMC   4357265 . PMID   25766001 .
  6. ^ Penfield, Wilder; Boldrey, Edwin (1937). “Somatic Motor And Sensory Representation In The Cerebral Cortex Of Man As Studied By Electrical Stimulation” . Brain. 60 (4): 389–443. doi : 10.1093/brain/60.4.389 . Archived from the original on 8 December 2015. Retrieved 26 March 2016.
  7. ^ Grodd W , Hülsmann E, Lotze M, Wildgruber D, Erb M. Sensorimotor mapping of the human cerebellum: fMRI evidence of somatotopic organization. Hum Brain Mapp. 2001 Jun;13(2):55-73.

External links[ edit ]

Wikimedia Commons has media related to Cortical homunculus .
  • Mole-ratunculus – an analog of a sensory homunculus, except for a mole-rat , from the paper Somatosensory cortex dominated by the representation of teeth in the naked mole-rat brain

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      Peripheral Nervous System

      The Somatosensory System

      General Organization of the Somatosensory System

      The somatosensory system is composed of the neurons that make sensing touch, temperature, and position in space possible.

      Learning Objectives

      Describe how the somatosensory system is composed of neurons that make sensing touch, temperature, and position in space possible

      Key Takeaways

      Key Points

      • The somatosensory system consists of primary, secondary, and tertiary neurons.
      • Sensory receptors housed in the dorsal root ganglia project to secondary neurons of the spinal cord that decussate and project to the thalamus or cerebellum.
      • Tertiary neurons project to the postcentral gyrus of the parietal lobe, forming a sensory homunculus.
      • A sensory homunculus maps sub-regions of the cortical postcentral gyrus to certain parts of the body.

      Key Terms

      • decussate: Where nerve fibers obliquely cross from one lateral part of the body to the other.
      • postcentral gyrus: A prominent structure in the parietal lobe of the human brain and an important landmark that is the location of the primary somatosensory cortex, the main sensory receptive area for the sense of touch.
      • organization: The quality of being constituted of parts, each having a special function, act, office, or relation; to systematize.
      • thalamus: Either of two large, ovoid structures of gray matter within the forebrain that relay sensory impulses to the cerebral cortex.

      The somatosensory system is distributed throughout all major parts of our body. It is responsible for sensing touch, temperature, posture, limb position, and more. It includes both sensory receptor neurons in the periphery (eg., skin, muscle, and organs) and deeper neurons within the central nervous system.

      Structure

      A somatosensory pathway will typically consist of three neurons: primary, secondary, and tertiary.

      1. In the periphery, the primary neuron is the sensory receptor that detects sensory stimuli like touch or temperature. The cell body of the primary neuron is housed in the dorsal root ganglion of a spinal nerve or, if sensation is in the head or neck, the ganglia of the trigeminal or cranial nerves.
      2. The secondary neuron acts as a relay and is located in either the spinal cord or the brainstem. This neuron’s ascending axons will cross, or decussate, to the opposite side of the spinal cord or brainstem and travel up the spinal cord to the brain, where most will terminate in either the thalamus or the cerebellum.
      3. Tertiary neurons have cell bodies in the thalamus and project to the postcentral gyrus of the parietal lobe, forming a sensory homunculus in the case of touch. Regarding posture, the tertiary neuron is located in the cerebellum.

      Processing

      The primary somatosensory area of the human cortex is located in the postcentral gyrus of the parietal lobe. The postcentral gyrus is the location of the primary somatosensory area, the area of the cortex dedicated to the processing of touch information. At this location there is a map of sensory space referred to as a sensory homunculus.

      A cortical homunculus is the brain’s physical representation of the human body; it is a neurological map of the anatomical divisions of the body. The surface area of cortex dedicated to a body part correlates with the amount of somatosensory input from that area.

      For example, there is a large area of cortex devoted to sensation in the hands, while the back requires a much smaller area. Somatosensory information involved with proprioception and posture is processed in the cerebellum.

      This is an image representing the cortical sensory homunculus. It shows how the anatomical portions of the body, such as the tongue, elbow, and hip, are mapped out on the homonculus. The surface area of cortex dedicated to a body part correlates with the amount of somatosensory input from that area.

      Homunculus: Image representing the cortical sensory homunculus. It shows how the anatomical portions of the body, such as the tongue, elbow, and hip, are mapped out on the homonculus. The surface area of cortex dedicated to a body part correlates with the amount of somatosensory input from that area.

      Functions

      The somatosensory system functions in the body’s periphery, spinal cord, and the brain.

      • Periphery: Sensory receptors (i.e., thermoreceptors, mechanoreceptors, etc.) detect the various stimuli.
      • Spinal cord: Afferent pathways in the spinal cord serve to pass information from the periphery and the rest of the body to the brain.
      • Brain: The postcentral gyrus contains Brodmann areas (BA) 3a, 3b, 1, and 2 that make up the somatosensory cortex. BA3a is involved with the sense of relative position of neighboring body parts and the amount of effort being used during movement. BA3b is responsible for distributing somatosensory information to BA1 and shape and size information to BA2.

      Tactile Sensation

      Touch is sensed by mechanoreceptive neurons that respond to pressure in various ways.

      Learning Objectives

      Describe how touch is sensed by mechanoreceptive neurons responding to pressure

      Key Takeaways

      Key Points

      • Our sense of touch, or tactile sensation, is mediated by cutaneous mechanoreceptors located in our skin.
      • There are four main types of cutaneous mechanoreceptors: Pacinian corpuscles, Meissner’s corpuscles, Merkel’s discs, and Ruffini endings.
      • Cutaneous mechanoreceptors are categorized by morphology, by the type of sensation they perceive, and by the rate of adaptation. Furthermore, each has a different receptive field.

      Key Terms

      • receptive field: The particular region of the sensory space (e.g., the body surface, space inside the ear) in which a stimulus will trigger the firing of that neuron.
      • adaptation: A change over time in the responsiveness of the sensory system to a constant stimulus.
      • Aβ fiber: A type of sensory nerve fiber that carries cold, pressure, and some pain signals.
      • Aδ fiber: Carries sensory information related to muscle spindle secondary endings, touch, and kinesthesia.

      A mechanoreceptor is a sensory receptor that responds to mechanical pressure or distortion. For instance, in the periodontal ligament, there are mechanoreceptors that allow the jaw to relax when biting down on hard objects; the mesencephalic nucleus is responsible for this reflex.

      In the skin, there are four main types in glabrous (hairless) skin:

      1. Ruffini endings.
      2. Meissner’s corpuscles.
      3. Pacinian corpuscles.
      4. Merkel’s discs.

      There are also mechanoreceptors in hairy skin. The hair cells in the cochlea are the most sensitive mechanoreceptors, transducing air pressure waves into nerve signals sent to the brain.

      Cutaneous Mechanoreceptors

      Cutaneous mechanoreceptors are located in the skin, like other cutaneous receptors. They provide the senses of touch, pressure, vibration, proprioception, and others. They are all innervated by Aβ fibers, except the mechanoreceiving free nerve endings, which are innervated by Aδ fibers.

      They can be categorized by morphology, by the type of sensation they perceive, and by the rate of adaptation. Furthermore, each has a different receptive field:

      • Ruffini’s end organs detect tension deep in the skin.
      • Meissner’s corpuscles detect changes in texture (vibrations around 50 Hz) and adapt rapidly.
      • Pacinian corpuscles detect rapid vibrations (about 200–300 Hz).
      • Merkel’s discs detect sustained touch and pressure.
      • Mechanoreceiving free nerve endings detect touch, pressure, and stretching.
      • Hair follicle receptors are located in hair follicles and sense the position changes of hair strands.

      Ruffini Ending

      The Ruffini ending (Ruffini corpuscle or bulbous corpuscle) is a class of slowly adapting mechanoreceptors thought to exist only in the glabrous dermis and subcutaneous tissue of humans. It is named after Angelo Ruffini.

      This spindle-shaped receptor is sensitive to skin stretch, and contributes to the kinesthetic sense of and control of finger position and movement. It is believed to be useful for monitoring the slippage of objects along the surface of the skin, allowing the modulation of grip on an object.

      Ruffini endings are located in the deep layers of the skin. They register mechanical information within joints, more specifically angle change, with a specificity of up to two degrees, as well as continuous pressure states. They also act as thermoreceptors that respond for a long time, such as holding hands with someone during a walk. In a case of a deep burn to the body, there will be no pain as these receptors will be burned off.

      Meissner’s Corpuscles

      Meissner’s corpuscles (or tactile corpuscles) are responsible for sensitivity to light touch. In particular, they have the highest sensitivity (lowest threshold) when sensing vibrations lower than 50 hertz. They are rapidly adaptive receptors.

      Pacinian Corpuscles

      Pacinian corpuscles (or lamellar corpuscles) are responsible for sensitivity to vibration and pressure. The vibrational role may be used to detect surface texture, e.g., rough versus smooth.

      Merkel Nerve

      Merkel nerve endings are mechanoreceptors found in the skin and mucosa of vertebrates that provide touch information to the brain. The information they provide are those regarding pressure and texture. Each ending consists of a Merkel cell in close apposition with an enlarged nerve terminal.

      This is sometimes referred to as a Merkel cell–neurite complex, or a Merkel disk receptor. A single afferent nerve fiber branches to innervate up to 90 such endings. They are classified as slowly adapting type I mechanoreceptors.

      Proprioceptive Sensations

      Proprioception refers to the sense of knowing how one’s body is positioned in three-dimensional space.

      Learning Objectives

      Describe how propioception is the sense of the position of parts of our body in a three dimensional space

      Key Takeaways

      Key Points

      • Proprioception is the sense of the position of parts of our body and force being generated during movement.
      • Proprioception relies on two, primary stretch receptors: Golgi tendon organs and muscle spindles.
      • Muscle spindles are sensory receptors within the belly of a muscle that primarily detect changes in the length of this muscle. They convey length information to the central nervous system via sensory neurons. This information can be processed by the brain to determine the position of body parts.
      • The Golgi organ (also called Golgi tendon organ, tendon organ, neurotendinous organ, or neurotendinous spindle) is a proprioceptive sensory receptor organ that is located at the insertion of skeletal muscle fibers into the tendons of skeletal muscle.

      Key Terms

      • alpha motor neuron: Large, multipolar lower motor neurons of the brainstem and spinal cord that are directly responsible for initiating muscle contraction.
      • proprioreceptor: A sensory receptor that responds to position and movement and that receives internal bodily stimuli.
      • posterior (dorsal) column-medial lemniscus pathway: A sensory pathway of the central nervous system that conveys localized sensations of fine touch, vibration, two-point discrimination, and proprioception from the skin and joints.
      • Law of Righting: A reflex rather than a law, this refers to the sudden movement of the head to level the eyes with the horizon in the event of an accidental tilting or imbalance of the body.
      • Golgi tendon organ: A proprioceptive sensory receptor organ that is located at the insertion of skeletal muscle fibers into the tendons of skeletal muscle.
      • muscle spindle: Sensory receptors within the belly of a muscle that primarily detect changes in the length of this muscle.
      • proprioception: The sense of the position of parts of the body, relative to other neighboring parts of the body.

      Proprioception is the sense of the relative position of neighboring parts of the body and the strength of effort being employed in movement. It is distinguished from exteroception, perception of the outside world, and interoception, perception of pain, hunger, and the movement of internal organs, etc.

      The initiation of proprioception is the activation of a proprioreceptor in the periphery. The proprioceptive sense is believed to be composed of information from sensory neurons located in the inner ear (motion and orientation) and in the stretch receptors located in the muscles and the joint-supporting ligaments (stance).

      Conscious proprioception is communicated by the posterior ( dorsal ) column–medial lemniscus pathway to the cerebrum. Unconscious proprioception is communicated primarily via the dorsal and ventral spinocerebellar tracts to the cerebellum.

      An unconscious reaction is seen in the human proprioceptive reflex, or Law of Righting. In the event that the body tilts in any direction, the person will cock their head back to level the eyes against the horizon. This is seen even in infants as soon as they gain control of their neck muscles. This control comes from the cerebellum, the part of the brain that affects balance.

      Muscle spindles are sensory receptors within the belly of a muscle that primarily detect changes in the length of a muscle. They convey length information to the central nervous system via sensory neurons. This information can be processed by the brain to determine the position of body parts. The responses of muscle spindles to changes in length also play an important role in regulating the contraction of muscles.

      This is a drawing of a mammalian muscle spindle showing its typical position in a muscle (left image), neuronal connections in spinal cord (middle image), and expanded schematic (right image). The spindle is a stretch receptor with its own motor supply consisting of several intrafusal muscle fibers. The sensory endings of a primary afferent and a secondary afferent can be seen coiled around the non-contractile central portions of the intrafusal fibers.

      Muscle spindle: Mammalian muscle spindle showing typical position in a muscle (left), neuronal connections in spinal cord (middle), and expanded schematic (right). The spindle is a stretch receptor with its own motor supply consisting of several intrafusal muscle fibers. The sensory endings of a primary (group Ia) afferent and a secondary (group II) afferent coil around the non-contractile central portions of the intrafusal fibers.

      The Golgi organ (also called Golgi tendon organ, tendon organ, neurotendinous organ or neurotendinous spindle) is a proprioceptive sensory receptor organ that is located at the insertion of skeletal muscle fibers onto the tendons of skeletal muscle. It provides the sensory component of the Golgi tendon reflex.

      The Golgi organ should not be confused with the Golgi apparatus—an organelle in the eukaryotic cell —or the Golgi stain, which is a histologic stain for neuron cell bodies.

      This is a drawing of the Golgi tendon organ. The Golgi tendon organ contributes to the Golgi tendon reflex and provides proprioceptive information about joint position. The drawing shows tendon bundles and nerve fibers with the Golgi organ attached to them and spread throughout the nerves and tendon.

      Golgi tendon organ: The Golgi tendon organ contributes to the Golgi tendon reflex and provides proprioceptive information about joint position.

      The Golgi tendon reflex is a normal component of the reflex arc of the peripheral nervous system. In a Golgi tendon reflex, skeletal muscle contraction causes the agonist muscle to simultaneously lengthen and relax. This reflex is also called the inverse myotatic reflex, because it is the inverse of the stretch reflex.

      Although muscle tension is increasing during the contraction, alpha motor neurons in the spinal cord that supply the muscle are inhibited. However, antagonistic muscles are activated.

      Somatic Sensory Pathways

      The somatosensory pathway is composed of three neurons located in the dorsal root ganglion, the spinal cord, and the thalamus.

      Learning Objectives

      Describe the somatosensory area in the human cortex

      Key Takeaways

      Key Points

      • A somatosensory pathway will typically have three neurons: primary, secondary, and tertiary.
      • The cell bodies of the three neurons in a typical somatosensory pathway are located in the dorsal root ganglion, the spinal cord, and the thalamus.
      • A major target of somatosensory pathways is the postcentral gyrus in the parietal lobe of the cerebral cortex.
      • A major somatosensory pathway is the dorsal column–medial lemniscal pathway.
      • The postcentral gyrus is the location of the primary somatosensory area that takes the form of a map called the sensory homunculus.

      Key Terms

      • parietal lobe: A part of the brain positioned superior to the occipital lobe and posterior to the frontal lobe that integrates sensory information from different modalities and is particularly important for determining spatial sense and navigation.
      • reticular activating system: A set of connected nuclei in the brain responsible for regulating wakefulness and sleep-to-wake transitions.
      • postcentral gyrus: A prominent structure in the parietal lobe of the human brain that is the location of the primary somatosensory cortex, the main sensory receptive area for the sense of touch.
      • thalamus: Either of two large, ovoid structures of gray matter within the forebrain that relay sensory impulses to the cerebral cortex.

      A somatosensory pathway will typically have three long neurons: primary, secondary, and tertiary. The first always has its cell body in the dorsal root ganglion of the spinal nerve.

      image

      Dorsal root ganglion: Sensory nerves of a dorsal root ganglion are depicted entering the spinal cord.

      The second has its cell body either in the spinal cord or in the brainstem; this neuron’s ascending axons will cross to the opposite side either in the spinal cord or in the brainstem. The axons of many of these neurons terminate in the thalamus, and others terminate in the reticular activating system or the cerebellum.

      In the case of touch and certain types of pain, the third neuron has its cell body in the ventral posterior nucleus of the thalamus and ends in the postcentral gyrus of the parietal lobe.

      In the periphery, the somatosensory system detects various stimuli by sensory receptors, such as by mechanoreceptors for tactile sensation and nociceptors for pain sensation. The sensory information (touch, pain, temperature, etc.,) is then conveyed to the central nervous system by afferent neurons, of which there are a number of different types with varying size, structure, and properties.

      Generally, there is a correlation between the type of sensory modality detected and the type of afferent neuron involved. For example, slow, thin, unmyelinated neurons conduct pain whereas faster, thicker, myelinated neurons conduct casual touch.

      Ascending Pathways

      In the spinal cord, the somatosensory system includes ascending pathways from the body to the brain. One major target within the brain is the postcentral gyrus in the cerebral cortex. This is the target for neurons of the dorsal column–medial lemniscal pathway and the ventral spinothalamic pathway.

      Note that many ascending somatosensory pathways include synapses in either the thalamus or the reticular formation before they reach the cortex. Other ascending pathways, particularly those involved with control of posture, are projected to the cerebellum, including the ventral and dorsal spinocerebellar tracts.

      Another important target for afferent somatosensory neurons that enter the spinal cord are those neurons involved with local segmental reflexes.

      image

      Spinal nerve: The formation of the spinal nerve from the dorsal and ventral roots.

      Parietal Love: Primary Somatosensory Area

      The primary somatosensory area in the human cortex is located in the postcentral gyrus of the parietal lobe. This is the main sensory receptive area for the sense of touch.

      Like other sensory areas, there is a map of sensory space called a homunculus at this location. Areas of this part of the human brain map to certain areas of the body, dependent on the amount or importance of somatosensory input from that area.

      For example, there is a large area of cortex devoted to sensation in the hands, while the back has a much smaller area. Somatosensory information involved with proprioception and posture also target an entirely different part of the brain, the cerebellum.

      Cortical Homunculus

      This is a pictorial representation of the anatomical divisions of the primary motor cortex and the primary somatosensory cortex; namely, the portion of the human brain directly responsible for the movement and exchange of sensory and motor information of the body.

      This is a pictorial representation of the anatomical divisions of the primary motor cortex and the primary somatosensory cortex; namely, the portion of the human brain directly responsible for the movement and exchange of sensory and motor information of the body. Different organs, such as hands and tongue, are mapped within the homunculus.

      Homunculus: Image representing the cortical sensory homunculus.

      Thalamus

      The thalamus is a midline symmetrical structure within the brain of vertebrates including humans; it is situated between the cerebral cortex and midbrain, and surrounds the third ventricle.

      Its function includes relaying sensory and motor signals to the cerebral cortex, along with the regulation of consciousness, sleep, and alertness.

      This is a drawing showing how the ventral posterolateral nucleus in the thalamus receives sensory information from the body through its anterior, medial, and lateral nuclei.

      Thalamic nuclei: The ventral posterolateral nucleus receives sensory information from the body.

      Mapping the Primary Somatosensory Area

      The cortical sensory homunculus is located in the postcentral gyrus and provides a representation of the body to the brain.

      Learning Objectives

      Describe how primary somatosensory areas can be mapped

      Key Takeaways

      Key Points

      • A sensory homunculus is a pictorial representation of the primary somatosensory cortex.
      • Somatotopy is the correspondence of an area of the body to a specific point in the brain.
      • Wilder Penfield was a researcher and surgeon who created maps of the somatosensory cortex.

      Key Terms

      • somesthetic cortex: The primary mechanism of cortical processing for sensory information originating at body surfaces and other tissues (eg., muscles, joints).
      • postcentral gyrus: A prominent structure in the parietal lobe of the human brain that is the location of the primary somatosensory cortex, the main sensory receptive area for the sense of touch.
      • precentral gyrus: The precentral gyrus lies in front of the postcentral gyrus and is the site of the primary motor cortex (Brodmann area 4).

      Cortical Homunculus

      A cortical homunculus is a pictorial representation of the anatomical divisions of the primary motor cortex and the primary somatosensory cortex; it is the portion of the human brain directly responsible for the movement and exchange of sensory and motor information of the body.

      It is a visual representation of the concept of the body within the brain—that one’s hand or face exists as much as a series of nerve structures or a neuron concept as it does in a physical form. There are two types of homunculus: sensory and motor. Each one shows a representation of how much of its respective cortex innervates certain body parts.

      The primary somesthetic cortex (sensory) pertains to the signals within the postcentral gyrus coming from the thalamus, and the primary motor cortex pertains to signals within the precentral gyrus coming from the premotor area of the frontal lobes.

      These are then transmitted from the gyri to the brain stem and spinal cord via corresponding sensory or motor nerves. The reason for the distorted appearance of the homunculus is that the amount of cerebral tissue or cortex devoted to a given body region is proportional to how richly innervated that region is, not to its size.

      The homunculus is like an upside-down sensory or motor map of the contralateral side of the body. The upper extremities such as the facial body parts and hands are closer to the lateral sulcus than lower extremities such as the leg and toes.

      This is a drawing of the cortical homunculus, showing how different organs are mapped out in the homunculus. The resulting image is a grotesquely disfigured human with disproportionately huge hands, lips, and face in comparison to the rest of the body. Because of the fine motor skills and sense nerves found in these particular parts of the body, they are represented as being larger on the homunculus. A part of the body with fewer sensory and/or motor connections to the brain is represented to appear smaller.

      Homunculus: The idea of the cortical homunculus was created by Wilder Penfield and serves as a rough map of the receptive fields for regions of primary somatosensory cortex.

      The resulting image is a grotesquely disfigured human with disproportionately huge hands, lips, and face in comparison to the rest of the body. Because of the fine motor skills and sense nerves found in these particular parts of the body, they are represented as being larger on the homunculus. A part of the body with fewer sensory and/or motor connections to the brain is represented to appear smaller.

      Somatotopy

      This is a drawing showing a top view of the human brain. The postcentral gyrus is located in the parietal lobe of the human cortex—indicated as a red band near the middle of the brain—and is the primary somatosensory region of the human brain.

      Postcentral gyrus: The postcentral gyrus is located in the parietal lobe of the human cortex and is the primary somatosensory region of the human brain.

      This is the point-for-point correspondence of an area of the body to a specific point on the central nervous system. Typically, the area of the body corresponds to a point on the primary somatosensory cortex (postcentral gyrus).

      This cortex is typically represented as a sensory homunculus which orients the specific body parts and their respective locations upon the homunculus. Areas such as the appendages, digits, and face can draw their sensory locations upon the somatosensory cortex.

      Areas that are finely controlled, such as the digits, have larger portions of the somatosensory cortex, whereas areas that are coarsely controlled, such as the trunk, have smaller portions. Areas such as the viscera do not have sensory locations on the postcentral gyrus.

      Montreal Procedure

      Wilder Penfield was a groundbreaking researcher and highly original surgeon. With his colleague, Herbert Jasper, he invented the Montreal procedure, in which he treated patients with severe epilepsy by destroying nerve cells in the brain where the seizures originated.

      Before operating, he stimulated the brain with electrical probes while the patients were conscious on the operating table (under only local anesthesia), and observed their responses. In this way he could more accurately target the areas of the brain responsible, reducing the side-effects of the surgery.

      This technique also allowed him to create maps of the sensory and motor cortices of the brain,  showing their connections to the various limbs and organs of the body. These maps are still used today, practically unaltered.

      Along with Herbert Jasper, he published this landmark work in 1951 as Epilepsy and the Functional Anatomy of the Human Brain. This work contributed a great deal to understanding the lateralization of brain function.

      Penfield’s maps showed considerable overlap between regions (for instance, the motor region controlling muscles in the hand sometimes also controlled muscles in the upper arm and shoulder), a feature that he put down to individual variation in brain size and localization; we now know that this is due to the fractured somatotropy of the motor cortex.

      Somatic Sensory Pathways to the Cerebellum

      The ventral and dorsal spinocerebellar tracts convey proprioceptive information from the body to the cerebellum.

      Learning Objectives

      Describe the somatic sensory pathways to the cerebellum

      Key Takeaways

      Key Points

      • The main somatosensory pathways that communicate with the cerebellum are the ventral (or anterior) and dorsal (or posterior ) spinocerebellar tracts.
      • The ventral spinocerebellar tract will cross to the opposite side of the body then cross again to end in the cerebellum (referred to as a double cross). The dorsal spinocerebellar tract does not decussate or cross sides at all through its path.
      • The dorsal spinocerebellar tract (also called the posterior spinocerebellar tract, Flechsig’s fasciculus, or Flechsig’s tract) conveys inconscient proprioceptive information from the body to the cerebellum.

      Key Terms

      • Clarke’s nucleus: A group of interneurons important in proprioception that is found in the intermediate zone of the spinal cord.
      • first order neuron: Conducts impulses from proprioceptors and skin receptors to the spinal cord or brain stem.

      A sensory system is a part of the nervous system responsible for processing sensory information. A sensory system consists of sensory receptors, neural pathways, and the parts of the brain involved in sensory perception. Commonly recognized sensory systems are those for vision, hearing, somatic sensation (touch), taste, and olfaction (smell).

      In short, senses are transducers from the physical world to the realm of the mind where we interpret the information, creating our perception of the world around us.

      The ventral spinocerebellar tract conveys proprioceptive information from the body to the cerebellum. It is part of the somatosensory system and runs in parallel with the dorsal spinocerebellar tract.

      Both tracts involve two neurons. The ventral spinocerebellar tract will cross to the opposite side of the body then cross again to end in the cerebellum (referred to as a double cross). The dorsal spinocerebellar tract does not decussate, or cross sides, at all through its path.

      The anterior and posterior spinocerebellar tracts are the major somatosensory pathways communicating with the cerebellum. The drawing shows the motor and descending pathways of the pyramidal and extrapyramidal tracts, interspersed on the sides of spinal column with the sensory and ascending pathways of the dorsal column–medial lemniscus system, spinocerebellar tracts, and the anterolateral system.

      The major tracts of the spinal cord: The anterior and posterior spinocerebellar tracts are the major somatosensory pathways communicating with the cerebellum.

      The ventral tract (under L2/L3) gets its proprioceptive/fine touch/vibration information from a first order neuron, with its cell body in a dorsal ganglion. The axon runs via the fila radicularia (nerve rootlets) to the dorsal horn of the gray matter. There it makes a synapse with the dendrites of two neurons that send their axons bilaterally to the ventral border of the lateral funiculi (transmit the contralateral corticospinal and
      spinothalamic tracts). The ventral spinocerebellar tract then enters the cerebellum via the superior cerebellar peduncle (connects the cerebellum to the midbrain).

      This is in contrast with the dorsal spinocerebellar tract (C8 – L2/L3), which only has one unilateral axon that has its cell body in Clarke’s nucleus (only at the level of C8 – L2/L3). The fibers of the ventral spinocerebellar tract then eventually enter the cerebellum via the superior cerebellar peduncle.

      This is one of the few afferent tracts through the superior cerebellar peduncle. Axons first cross midline in the spinal cord and run in the ventral border of the lateral funiculi. These axons ascend to the pons where they join the superior cerebellar peduncle to enter the cerebellum.

      Once in the deep, white matter of the cerebellum, the axons recross the midline, give off collaterals to the globose and emboliform nuclei (deep cerebellar nuclei), and terminate in the cortex of the anterior lobe and vermis of the posterior lobe.

      The dorsal spinocerebellar tract (also called the posterior spinocerebellar tract, Flechsig’s fasciculus, or Flechsig’s tract) conveys inconscient proprioceptive information from the body to the cerebellum. It is part of the somatosensory system and runs in parallel with the ventral spinocerebellar tract.

      Proprioceptive information is taken to the spinal cord via central processes of the dorsal root ganglia (where first order neurons reside). These central processes travel through the dorsal horn where they synapse with second order neurons of Clarke’s nucleus.

      Axon fibers from Clarke’s nucleus convey this proprioceptive information in the spinal cord to the peripheral region of the posterolateral funiculus ipsilaterally until it reaches the cerebellum, where unconscious proprioceptive information is processed. This tract involves two neurons and ends up on the same side of the body.

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      Homunculus: Somatosensory and Somatomotor Cortex

      • Homunculus
      • Motor Cortex
      • Sensory Cortex
      • Related Content
      • Editors & Reviewers
        Homunculus

        Homunculus Sensory & Motor Image 

        Motor Cortex
        • Each cerebral hemisphere includes primary motor cortex that is located just anterior to the central sulcus (a.k.a., precentral gyrus) and extends down to the sylvian fissure. This area is histologically known to be Brodmann’s Area 4.
        • The topographical representation of the homunculus is arranged in an anatomical fashion and represents the contralateral side. This means that the primary cortex in the right cerebral hemisphere represents motor activity on the left side of the body and vice-versa.
          • It is important to recognize that the density of receptors for various parts of the body are not the same which is why the homunculus represents different sizes as it extends over the cortex.
        Somatosensory Cortex
        • Each cerebral hemisphere includes somatosensory cortex that is located just posterior to the central sulcus (a.k.a., postcentral gyrus) and extends down to the sylvian fissure. This area is histologically known to be Brodmann’s Areas 1, 2, 3.
        • The topographical representation of the homunculus arranged in an anatomical fashion and represents the tactile representation of the contralateral side. 
        • It is important to recognize 2 main things about the somatosensory cortex:
          • That the density of receptors for various
            parts of the body are not the same which is why the homunculus
            represents different sizes as it extends over the cortex.  
          • The surface area of the anatomical body part also does not influence the amount of the cortex dedicated to that body part, but rather reflects the density of cutaneous tactile receptors dedicated to that body part.  For example, the lips make up a small surface area compared to other body parts but yet has a greater density of receptors compared to the shoulder or forearm.
        Related Content

        Other articles that may be useful to this topic and found at EBM Consult are listed below:

        • Anatomy:  Dermatomes – Full Body
        • Anatomy:  Dermatomes – Head and Face
        • Anatomy:  Dermatomes – Hand
        • Anatomy:  Cavernous Sinus
        • Anatomy & Pathology:  Stroke vs. Bell’s Palsy
        • Anatomy & Pathology:  Epidural vs. Subdural Hematoma
        • EBM Focused Topic:  Endovascular Treatment of Acute Ischemic Stroke
        Editors & Reviewers

        Editors:

        • Anthony J. Busti, MD, PharmD, FNLA, FAHA 
        • Dylan Kellogg, MD

        Last Updated:  September 2015

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