Parietal rTMS distorts the mental number line: simulating 'spatial' neglect in healthy subjects.
Abstract: Patients with left-sided visuospatial neglect, typically after damage to the right parietal lobe, show a systematic bias towards larger numbers when asked to bisect a numerical interval. This has been taken as further evidence for a spatial representation of numbers, perhaps akin to a mental number line with smaller numbers represented to the left and larger numbers to the right. Previously, contralateral neglect-like symptoms in physical line bisection have been induced in healthy subjects with repetitive transcranial magnetic stimulation (rTMS) over right posterior parietal lobe. Here we used rTMS over parietal and occipital sites in healthy subjects to investigate spatial representations in a number bisection task. Subjects were asked to name the midpoint of numerical intervals without calculating. On control trials subjects' behaviour was similar to performance reported in physical line bisection experiments. Subjects underestimated the midpoint of the numerical interval. Repetitive transcranial magnetic stimulation produced representational neglect-like symptoms in number bisection when applied over right posterior parietal cortex (right PPC). Repetitive TMS over right PPC shifted the perceived midpoint of the numerical interval significantly to the right while occipital TMS had no effect on bisection performance. Our study therefore provides further evidence that subjects use spatial representations, perhaps akin to a mental number line, in basic numerical processing tasks. Furthermore, we showed that the right posterior parietal cortex is crucially involved in spatial representation of numbers.
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