Seeing the phantom: a functional magnetic resonance imaging study of a supernumerary phantom limb
OBJECTIVE: Supernumerary phantom limb (SPL) is a rare neurological manifestation where patients with a severe stroke-induced sensorimotor deficit experience the illusory presence of an extra limb that duplicates a real one. The illusion is most often experienced as a somesthetic phantom, but rarer SPLs may be intentionally triggered or seen. Here, we report the case of a left visual, tactile, and intentional SPL caused by right subcortical damage in a nondeluded woman. METHODS: Using functional magnetic resonance imaging, we investigated the multimodal nature of this phantom, which the patient claimed to be able see, use, and move intentionally. The patient participated in a series of sensorimotor and motor imagery tasks involving the right, the left plegic, and the SPL's hand. RESULTS: Right premotor and motor regions were engaged when she imagined that she was scratching her left cheek with her left plegic hand, whereas when she performed the same task with the SPL, additional left middle occipital areas were recruited. Moreover, comparison of responses induced by left cheek (subjectively feasible) versus right cheek scratching (reportedly unfeasible movement) with the SPL demonstrated significant activation in right somesthetic areas. INTERPRETATION: These findings demonstrate that intentional movements of a seen and felt SPL activate premotor and motor areas together with visual and sensory cortex, confirming its multimodal dimension and the reliability of the patient's verbal reports. This observation, interpreted for cortical deafferentation/disconnection caused by subcortical brain damage, constitutes a new but theoretically predictable entity among disorders of bodily awareness.