THURSDAY, June 16 (HealthDay News) -- Researchers have pinpointed the brain regions that enable people to recognize their body as their own, one of the most fundamental aspects of self-awareness.

The ability was traced to specialized multisensory neurons in various parts of the brain that create a unified view of the body by combining different sensory inputs from all over the body, according to the study published online June 16 in the journal Current Biology.

"When we look down at our body, we immediately experience that it belongs to us. We do not experience our body as a set of fragmented parts, but rather as a single entity," Valeria Petkova of the Karolinska Institute in Sweden, said in a journal news release.

"Our study is the first to tackle the important question of how we come to have the unitary experience of owning an entire body," she added.

In the study, functional MRI was used to monitor the brains of volunteers who experienced a "body swap" illusion in which they experienced a manikin to be their own body. The participants observed the manikin being touched from the point of view of the manikin's head while simultaneously feeling touches on their own body, which they could not see.

The findings may have medical applications.

"Understanding the mechanisms underlying the self-attribution of a body in the healthy brain can help in developing better diagnostic and therapeutic strategies to address pathological disturbances of bodily self-perception," senior author Henrik Ehrsson said. "In addition, understanding the mechanisms of perceiving an entire body or a body part as belonging to oneself can have important implications for the design and production of mechanical prostheses or robotic substitutes for paralyzed or amputated body parts."

More information

For more on body self-perception, go to the University of Glasgow in Scotland.