The primary sense modalities (vision, touch and so on) are generally thought of as distinct. However, visual imagery is implicated in the normal tactile perception of some object properties, such as orientation, shape and size. Furthermore, certain tactile tasks, such as discrimination of grating orientation and object recognition, are associated with activity in areas of visual cortex. Here we show that disrupting function of the occipital cortex using focal transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS) interferes with the tactile discrimination of grating orientation. The specificity of this effect is illustrated by its time course and spatial restriction over the scalp, and by the failure of occipital TMS to affect either detection of an electrical stimulus applied to the fingerpad or tactile discrimination of grating texture. In contrast, TMS over the somatosensory cortex blocked discrimination of grating texture as well as orientation. We also report that, during tactile discrimination of grating orientation, an evoked potential is recorded over posterior scalp regions with a latency corresponding to the peak of the TMS interference effect (about 180 ms). The findings indicate that visual cortex is closely involved in tactile discrimination of orientation. To our knowledge, this is the first demonstration that visual cortical processing is necessary for normal tactile perception.
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