The 3D Structural Architecture of the Human Hand Area Is Nontopographic.
Doehler J., Northall A., Liu P., Fracasso A., Chrysidou A., Speck O., Lohmann G., Wolbers T., Kuehn E.
The functional topography of the human primary somatosensory cortex hand area is a widely studied model system to understand sensory organization and plasticity. It is so far unclear whether the underlying 3D structural architecture also shows a topographic organization. We used 7 Tesla (7T) magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) data to quantify layer-specific myelin, iron, and mineralization in relation to population receptive field maps of individual finger representations in Brodman area 3b (BA 3b) of human S1 in female and male younger adults. This 3D description allowed us to identify a characteristic profile of layer-specific myelin and iron deposition in the BA 3b hand area, but revealed an absence of structural differences, an absence of low-myelin borders, and high similarity of 3D microstructure profiles between individual fingers. However, structural differences and borders were detected between the hand and face areas. We conclude that the 3D structural architecture of the human hand area is nontopographic, unlike in some monkey species, which suggests a high degree of flexibility for functional finger organization and a new perspective on human topographic plasticity.SIGNIFICANCE STATEMENT Using ultra-high-field MRI, we provide the first comprehensive in vivo description of the 3D structural architecture of the human BA 3b hand area in relation to functional population receptive field maps. High similarity of precise finger-specific 3D profiles, together with an absence of structural differences and an absence of low-myelin borders between individual fingers, reveals the 3D structural architecture of the human hand area to be nontopographic. This suggests reduced structural limitations to cortical plasticity and reorganization and allows for shared representational features across fingers.