Research Article: Auditory cues for somatosensory targets invoke visuomotor transformations: Behavioral and electrophysiological evidence

Date Published: May 2, 2019

Publisher: Public Library of Science

Author(s): Gerome A. Manson, Luc Tremblay, Nicolas Lebar, John de Grosbois, Laurence Mouchnino, Jean Blouin, Bernadette Ann Murphy.


Prior to goal-directed actions, somatosensory target positions can be localized using either an exteroceptive or an interoceptive body representation. The goal of the present study was to investigate if the body representation selected to plan reaches to somatosensory targets is influenced by the sensory modality of the cue indicating the target’s location. In the first experiment, participants reached to somatosensory targets prompted by either an auditory or a vibrotactile cue. As a baseline condition, participants also performed reaches to visual targets prompted by an auditory cue. Gaze-dependent reaching errors were measured to determine the contribution of the exteroceptive representation to motor planning processes. The results showed that reaches to both auditory-cued somatosensory targets and auditory-cued visual targets exhibited larger gaze-dependent reaching errors than reaches to vibrotactile-cued somatosensory targets. Thus, an exteroceptive body representation was likely used to plan reaches to auditory-cued somatosensory targets but not to vibrotactile-cued somatosensory targets. The second experiment examined the influence of using an exteroceptive body representation to plan movements to somatosensory targets on pre-movement neural activations. Cortical responses to a task-irrelevant visual flash were measured as participants planned movements to either auditory-cued somatosensory or auditory-cued visual targets. Larger responses (i.e., visual-evoked potentials) were found when participants planned movements to somatosensory vs. visual targets, and source analyses revealed that these activities were localized to the left occipital and left posterior parietal areas. These results suggest that visual and visuomotor processing networks were more engaged when using the exteroceptive body representation to plan movements to somatosensory targets, than when planning movements to external visual targets.

Partial Text

In a game of “Simon Says”, spoken instructions such as “touch your elbow” can prompt movements towards a specified body location. Similarly, the feeling of a mosquito landing on the elbow could also prompt movements to this same position. Although the goal of both actions is to reach to a common body location (i.e., hereafter referred to as a somatosensory target), the manner in which this position is identified could influence the body representation used to determine the target’s coordinates. The purpose of the present study was to examine if the modality of the stimulus indicating a somatosensory target’s position influences the body representation used to plan movements.

In the AUD-VIS condition, when participants placed their finger on the home position microswitch, the finger and all target LEDs were illuminated. When participants released the microswitch to begin their reaching movement, the finger LED was extinguished, but all target LEDs remained illuminated throughout the trajectory. Therefore, participants could get terminal feedback about their movement accuracy through the reflection of the illuminated targets on their reaching finger. In contrast to Experiment 1 where gaze-dependent reaching endpoint errors were assessed, the difference in endpoint error between conditions was not relevant to the purpose of Experiment 2; thus, participants were allowed to have terminal feedback in both conditions.

In summary, we found that the sensory modality employed to identify the position of a somatosensory target impacts the body representation used for movement planning processes. Preparing reaching movements towards auditory-cued somatosensory targets prompted the use of an exteroceptive representation of the body. By measuring the cortical response to a visual stimulus presented during movement planning, we also found that the additional sensorimotor transformation processes involved in the visual remapping of somatosensory target positions were associated with increased visual processing in occipital and posterior parietal areas. Taken together, the findings of the present study suggest that the sensorimotor transformation processes underlying movements to somatosensory targets derived using an exteroceptive body representation recruits visual and visuomotor cortical networks.




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