Amputees cannot feel what they touch with their artificial hands, which severely limits usefulness of those hands. We have developed a technique that transfers remaining arm nerves to residual chest muscles after an amputation. This technique allows some sensory nerves from the amputated limb to reinnervate overlying chest skin. When this reinnervated skin is touched, the amputees perceive that they are being touched on their missing limb. We found that touch thresholds of the reinnervated chest skin fall within near-normal ranges, indicating the regeneration of large-fiber afferents. The perceptual identity of the limb and chest was maintained separately even though they shared a common skin surface. A cutaneous expression of proprioception also occurred in one reinnervated individual. Experiments with peltier temperature probes and surface electrical stimulation of the reinnervated skin indicate the regeneration of small diameter temperature and pain afferents. The perception of an amputated limb arising from stimulation of reinnervated chest skin may allow useful sensory feedback from prosthetic devices and provides insight into the mechanisms of neural plasticity and peripheral regeneration in humans.
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