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Cerebral cortical representation of reflexive and volitional swallowing in humans.

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Medical College of Wisconsin Dysphagia Institute, Department of Medicine, The Medical College of Wisconsin, Milwaukee, Wisconsin 53226, USA.


The purpose of this study was to compare cerebral cortical representation of experimentally induced reflexive swallow with that of volitional swallow. Eight asymptomatic adults (24-27 yr) were studied by a single-trial functional magnetic resonance imaging technique. Reflexive swallowing showed bilateral activity concentrated to the primary sensory/motor regions. Volitional swallowing was represented bilaterally in the insula, prefrontal, cingulate, and parietooccipital regions in addition to the primary sensory/motor cortex. Intrasubject comparison showed that the total volume of activity during volitional swallowing was significantly larger than that activated during reflexive swallows in either hemisphere (P < 0.001). For volitional swallowing, the primary sensory/motor region contained the largest and the insular region the smallest volumes of activation in both hemispheres, and the total activated volume in the right hemisphere was significantly larger compared with the left (P < 0.05). Intersubject comparison showed significant variability in the volume of activity in each of the four volitional swallowing cortical regions. We conclude that reflexive swallow is represented in the primary sensory/motor cortex and that volitional swallow is represented in multiple regions, including the primary sensory/motor cortex, insular, prefrontal/cingulate gyrus, and cuneus and precuneus region. Non-sensory/motor regions activated during volitional swallow may represent swallow-related intent and planning and possibly urge.

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