Shared neural representations of tactile roughness intensities by somatosensation and touch observation using an associative learning method.


Department of Human Factors Engineering, Ulsan National Institute of Science and Technology, Ulsan, 44919, Republic of Korea. [Email]


Previous human fMRI studies have reported activation of somatosensory areas not only during actual touch, but also during touch observation. However, it has remained unclear how the brain encodes visually evoked tactile intensities. Using an associative learning method, we investigated neural representations of roughness intensities evoked by (a) tactile explorations and (b) visual observation of tactile explorations. Moreover, we explored (c) modality-independent neural representations of roughness intensities using a cross-modal classification method. Case (a) showed significant decoding performance in the anterior cingulate cortex (ACC) and the supramarginal gyrus (SMG), while in the case (b), the bilateral posterior parietal cortices, the inferior occipital gyrus, and the primary motor cortex were identified. Case (c) observed shared neural activity patterns in the bilateral insula, the SMG, and the ACC. Interestingly, the insular cortices were identified only from the cross-modal classification, suggesting their potential role in modality-independent tactile processing. We further examined correlations of confusion patterns between behavioral and neural similarity matrices for each region. Significant correlations were found solely in the SMG, reflecting a close relationship between neural activities of SMG and roughness intensity perception. The present findings may deepen our understanding of the brain mechanisms underlying intensity perception of tactile roughness.