It is the location of primary somatosensory cortex, the main sensory receptive area for the sense of touch. Like other sensory areas, there is a map of sensory space called a homunculus in this location. For the primary somatosensory cortex, this is called the sensory homunculus. See a somewhat fanciful and highly schematic representation of the sensory homunculus below.
This area of cortex, as shown by Wilder Penfield and others, has the pattern of a homunculus. That is, the legs and trunk fold over the midline; the arms and hands are along the middle of the area shown here; and the face is near the bottom of the figure. While it is not well-shown here, the lips and hands are enlarged on a proper homunculus, since a large number of neurons in the cerebral cortex are devoted to processing information from these areas.
These areas contain cells that project to the secondary somatosensory cortex.
Lesions affecting the primary somatosensory cortex produce characteristic symptoms including: agraphesthesia, astereognosia, loss of vibration, proprioception and fine touch (because the third-order neuron of the medial-lemniscal pathway cannot synapse in the cortex). It can also produce hemineglect, if it affects the non-dominant hemisphere.
It could also reduce nociception, thermoception and crude touch, but since information from the spinothalamic tract is interpreted mainly by other areas of the brain (see insular cortex and cingulate gyrus), it is not as relevant as the other symptoms.
Report summarizes central nervous system study findings from University of Western Ontario, Division of Neurosurgery.(Clinical report)
May 16, 2010; New research, 'Brain reorganization in patients with spinal cord compression evaluated using fMRI,' is the subject of a report....