Compensatory changes accompanying chronic forced use of the nondominant hand by unilateral amputees

Benjamin A. Philip, Scott H. Frey

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46 Scopus citations


Amputation of the dominant hand forces patients to use the nondominant hand exclusively, including for tasks (e.g., writing and drawing) that were formerly the sole domain of the dominant hand. The behavioral and neurological effects of this chronic forced use of the nondominant hand remain largely unknown. Yet, these effects may shed light on the potential to compensate for degradation or loss of dominant hand function, as well as the mechanisms that support motor learning under conditions of very long-term training.Weused a novel precision drawing task and fMRI to investigate 8 adult human amputees with chronic (mean 33 years) unilateral dominant (right) hand absence, and right-handed matched controls (8 for fMRI, 19 for behavior). Amputees' precision drawing performances with their left hands reached levels of smoothness (associated with left hemisphere control), acceleration time (associated with right hemisphere control), and speed equivalent to controls' right hands, whereas accuracy maintained a level comparable with controls' left hands. This compensation is supported by an experience-dependent shift from heavy reliance on the dorsodorsal parietofrontal pathway (feedback control) to the ventrodorsal pathway and prefrontal regions involved in the cognitive control of goal-directed actions. Relative to controls, amputees also showed increased activity within the former cortical sensorimotor hand territory in the left (ipsilateral) hemisphere. These data demonstrate that, with chronic and exclusive forced use, the speed and quality of nondominant hand precision endpoint control in drawing can achieve levels nearly comparable with the dominant hand.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)3622-3631
Number of pages10
JournalJournal of Neuroscience
Issue number10
StatePublished - 2014


  • Amputation
  • Behavior
  • Deafferentation
  • Limb
  • fMRI


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