Many individuals who undergo limb amputation experience persistent phantom limb pain (PLP). The underlying mechanism of PLP is unknown, but the phenomenon has been associated with reorganization in sensorimotor cortex following amputation. The traditional view is that cortical reorganization degrades the missing limb’s representation. However, recent work suggests that an amputated limb’s cortical representation remains intact and that reorganization reflects a retargeting of efferent projections to residual muscles proximal to the amputation site. Evidence of retargeting has only been shown in individuals with upper limb amputations, and the relationship of retargeting to PLP is controversial. This study assessed retargeting and its relationship to PLP in 10 individuals with lower limb amputations. We recorded electromyographic (EMG) activity in a residual thigh muscle (vastus lateralis, VL) in patients with above-knee amputations during cyclical movements of the foot. VL activity on the amputated side was compared to that recorded on patients’ intact side while they moved their phantom and intact feet, respectively. VL activity in the patient group was also compared to VL activity from a sample of 9 control participants with no amputation. We show that phantom foot movement is associated with greater VL activity in the amputated leg than that seen in the intact leg as well as that exhibited by controls. The magnitude of residual VL activity was also positively related to ratings of PLP. These results provide the first support for retargeting in lower limb amputees and suggest that retargeting is related to the experience of phantom pain.
bioRxiv Subject Collection: Neuroscience