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Concept: Hand


Hand coordination can allow humans to have dexterous control with many degrees of freedom to perform various tasks in daily living. An important contributing factor to this important ability is the complex biomechanical architecture of the human hand. However, drawing a clear functional link between biomechanical architecture and hand coordination is challenging. It is not understood which biomechanical characteristics are responsible for hand coordination and what specific effect each biomechanical characteristic has. To explore this link, we first inspected the characteristics of hand coordination during daily tasks through a statistical analysis of the kinematic data, which were collected from thirty right-handed subjects during a multitude of grasping tasks. Then, the functional link between biomechanical architecture and hand coordination was drawn by establishing the clear corresponding causality between the tendinous connective characteristics of the human hand and the coordinated characteristics during daily grasping activities. The explicit functional link indicates that the biomechanical characteristic of tendinous connective architecture between muscles and articulations is the proper design by the Creator to perform a multitude of daily tasks in a comfortable way. The clear link between the structure and the function of the human hand also suggests that the design of a multifunctional robotic hand should be able to better imitate such basic architecture.

Concepts: Statistics, Motor control, Task, Hand, Characteristic, Hand strength, Fine motor skill


Patients with spinal cord injury lack the connections between brain and spinal cord circuits that are essential for voluntary movement. Clinical systems that achieve muscle contraction through functional electrical stimulation (FES) have proven to be effective in allowing patients with tetraplegia to regain control of hand movements and to achieve a greater measure of independence in daily activities. In existing clinical systems, the patient uses residual proximal limb movements to trigger pre-programmed stimulation that causes the paralysed muscles to contract, allowing use of one or two basic grasps. Instead, we have developed an FES system in primates that is controlled by recordings made from microelectrodes permanently implanted in the brain. We simulated some of the effects of the paralysis caused by C5 or C6 spinal cord injury by injecting rhesus monkeys with a local anaesthetic to block the median and ulnar nerves at the elbow. Then, using recordings from approximately 100 neurons in the motor cortex, we predicted the intended activity of several of the paralysed muscles, and used these predictions to control the intensity of stimulation of the same muscles. This process essentially bypassed the spinal cord, restoring to the monkeys voluntary control of their paralysed muscles. This achievement is a major advance towards similar restoration of hand function in human patients through brain-controlled FES. We anticipate that in human patients, this neuroprosthesis would allow much more flexible and dexterous use of the hand than is possible with existing FES systems.

Concepts: Nervous system, Neuron, Spinal cord, Muscle, Primate, Paralysis, Hand, Ulnar nerve


Restoration of touch after hand amputation is a desirable feature of ideal prostheses. Here, we show that texture discrimination can be artificially provided in human subjects by implementing a neuromorphic real-time mechano-neuro-transduction (MNT), which emulates to some extent the firing dynamics of SA1 cutaneous afferents. The MNT process was used to modulate the temporal pattern of electrical spikes delivered to the human median nerve via percutaneous microstimulation in four intact subjects and via implanted intrafascicular stimulation in one transradial amputee. Both approaches allowed the subjects to reliably discriminate spatial coarseness of surfaces as confirmed also by a hybrid neural model of the median nerve. Moreover, MNT-evoked EEG activity showed physiologically plausible responses that were superimposable in time and topography to the ones elicited by a natural mechanical tactile stimulation. These findings can open up novel opportunities for sensory restoration in the next generation of neuro-prosthetic hands.

Concepts: Sensory system, Somatosensory system, Amputation, Star Trek: The Next Generation, Prosthesis, Proprioception, Hand, Thumb


Human non-hairy (glabrous) skin of the fingers, palms and soles wrinkles after prolonged exposure to water. Wrinkling is a sympathetic nervous system-dependent process but little is known about the physiology and potential functions of water-induced skin wrinkling. Here we investigated the idea that wrinkling might improve handling of wet objects by measuring the performance of a large cohort of human subjects (n = 40) in a manual dexterity task. We also tested the idea that skin wrinkling has an impact on tactile acuity or vibrotactile sensation using two independent sensory tasks. We found that skin wrinkling did not improve dexterity in handling wet objects nor did it affect any aspect of touch sensitivity measured. Thus water-induced wrinkling appears to have no significant impact on tactile driven performance or dexterity in handling wet or dry objects.

Concepts: Sensory system, Skin, Sense, Somatosensory system, Prolonged exposure therapy, Proprioception, Hand, Fine motor skill


People have long speculated whether the evolution of bipedalism in early hominins triggered tool use (by freeing their hands) or whether the necessity of making and using tools encouraged the shift to upright gait. Either way, it is commonly thought that one led to the other. In this study, we sought to shed new light on the origins of manual dexterity and bipedalism by mapping the neural representations in the brain of the fingers and toes of living people and monkeys. Contrary to the ‘hand-in-glove’ notion outlined above, our results suggest that adaptations underlying tool use evolved independently of those required for human bipedality. In both humans and monkeys, we found that each finger was represented separately in the primary sensorimotor cortex just as they are physically separated in the hand. This reflects the ability to use each digit independently, as required for the complex manipulation involved in tool use. The neural mapping of the subjects' toes differed, however. In the monkeys, the somatotopic representation of the toes was fused, showing that the digits function predominantly as a unit in general grasping. Humans, by contrast, had an independent neurological representation of the big toe (hallux), suggesting association with bipedal locomotion. These observations suggest that the brain circuits for the hand had advanced beyond simple grasping, whereas our primate ancestors were still general arboreal quadrupeds. This early adaptation laid the foundation for the evolution of manual dexterity, which was preserved and enhanced in hominins. In hominins, a separate adaptation, involving the neural separation of the big toe, apparently occurred with bipedality. This accords with the known fossil evidence, including the recently reported hominin fossils which have been dated to 4.4 million years ago.

Concepts: Finger, Hand, Locomotion, Toe, Dinosaur, Hominina, Hominid, Bipedalism


Hand loss is a highly disabling event that markedly affects the quality of life. To achieve a close to natural replacement for the lost hand, the user should be provided with the rich sensations that we naturally perceive when grasping or manipulating an object. Ideal bidirectional hand prostheses should involve both a reliable decoding of the user’s intentions and the delivery of nearly “natural” sensory feedback through remnant afferent pathways, simultaneously and in real time. However, current hand prostheses fail to achieve these requirements, particularly because they lack any sensory feedback. We show that by stimulating the median and ulnar nerve fascicles using transversal multichannel intrafascicular electrodes, according to the information provided by the artificial sensors from a hand prosthesis, physiologically appropriate (near-natural) sensory information can be provided to an amputee during the real-time decoding of different grasping tasks to control a dexterous hand prosthesis. This feedback enabled the participant to effectively modulate the grasping force of the prosthesis with no visual or auditory feedback. Three different force levels were distinguished and consistently used by the subject. The results also demonstrate that a high complexity of perception can be obtained, allowing the subject to identify the stiffness and shape of three different objects by exploiting different characteristics of the elicited sensations. This approach could improve the efficacy and “life-like” quality of hand prostheses, resulting in a keystone strategy for the near-natural replacement of missing hands.

Concepts: Control theory, Cybernetics, Information, Feedback, Object, Control system, Hand, Ulnar nerve


The human hand has so many degrees of freedom that it may seem impossible to control. A potential solution to this problem is “synergy control” which combines dimensionality reduction with great flexibility. With applicability to a wide range of tasks, this has become a very popular concept. In this review, we describe the evolution of the modern concept using studies of kinematic and force synergies in human hand control, neurophysiology of cortical and spinal neurons, and electromyographic (EMG) activity of hand muscles. We go beyond the often purely descriptive usage of synergy by reviewing the organization of the underlying neuronal circuitry in order to propose mechanistic explanations for various observed synergy phenomena. Finally, we propose a theoretical framework to reconcile important and still debated concepts such as the definitions of “fixed” vs. “flexible” synergies and mechanisms underlying the combination of synergies for hand control.

Concepts: Nervous system, Neuron, Energy, Axon, Synapse, Electromyography, Hand, Hand strength


The relation between pain perception and spatial representation of the body is poorly understood. In the thermal grill illusion (TGI), alternating non-noxious warm and cold temperatures cause a paradoxical, sometimes painful, sensation of burning heat [1]. We combined thermal grill stimulation with crossing the fingers to investigate whether nociceptively mediated sensation depends on the somatotopic or spatiotopic configuration of thermal inputs. We stimulated the index, middle, and ring fingers when the middle finger either was or was not crossed over the index to generate “warm-cold-warm” patterns in either somatotopic or spatiotopic coordinates. Participants adjusted a temperature delivered to the other hand until it matched their perception of the cold target finger (index or middle). We found significant temperature overestimation when the target was central within the spatial configuration (warm-cold-warm) compared to when it was peripheral (cold-warm-warm). Crucially, this effect depended on the spatiotopic configuration of thermal inputs, but it was independent of the finger posture and present for both index and middle target fingers-the thermal grill effect for the middle finger was abolished when it was crossed over the index to adopt a spatiotopically peripheral position, while the same effect was newly generated for the index finger by the same postural change. Our results suggest that the locations of multiple stimuli are remapped into external space as a group; nociceptively mediated sensations depended not on the body posture, but rather on the external spatial configuration formed by the pattern of thermal stimuli in each posture.

Concepts: Temperature, Heat, Finger, Ring finger, Hand, Middle finger, Index finger, Fingers


Cortical activity allotted to the tactile receptors on fingertips conforms to skilful use of the hand [1-3]. For instance, in string instrument players, the somatosensory cortical activity in response to touch on the little fingertip is larger than that in control subjects [1]. Such plasticity of the fingertip sensory representation is not limited to extraordinary skills and occurs in monkeys trained to repetitively grasp and release a handle as well [4]. Touchscreen phones also require repetitive finger movements, but whether and how the cortex conforms to this is unknown. By using electroencephalography (EEG), we measured the cortical potentials in response to mechanical touch on the thumb, index, and middle fingertips of touchscreen phone users and nonusers (owning only old-technology mobile phones). Although the thumb interacted predominantly with the screen, the potentials associated with the three fingertips were enhanced in touchscreen users compared to nonusers. Within the touchscreen users, the cortical potentials from the thumb and index fingertips were directly proportional to the intensity of use quantified with built-in battery logs. Remarkably, the thumb tip was sensitive to the day-to-day fluctuations in phone use: the shorter the time elapsed from an episode of intense phone use, the larger the cortical potential associated with it. Our results suggest that repetitive movements on the smooth touchscreen reshaped sensory processing from the hand and that the thumb representation was updated daily depending on its use. We propose that cortical sensory processing in the contemporary brain is continuously shaped by the use of personal digital technology.

Concepts: Sensory system, Sense, Somatosensory system, Mobile phone, Proprioception, Finger, Hand, Index finger


Muscle attachment sites (entheses) on dry bones are regularly used by paleontologists to infer soft tissue anatomy and to reconstruct behaviors of extinct organisms. This method is commonly applied to fossil hominin hand bones to assess their abilities to participate in Paleolithic stone tool behaviors. Little is known, however, about how or even whether muscle anatomy and activity regimes influence the morphologies of their entheses, especially in the hand. Using the opponens muscles from a sample of modern humans, we tested the hypothesis that aspects of hand muscle architecture that are known to be influenced by behavior correlate with the size and shape of their associated entheses. Results show no consistent relationships between these behaviorally-influenced aspects of muscle architecture and entheseal morphology. Consequently, it is likely premature to infer patterns of behavior, such as stone tool making in fossil hominins, from these same entheses.

Concepts: Human, Evolution, Hominidae, Hand, Hand strength, Prehistory, Homininae, Hominini