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NMR Biomed. 2008 May;21(4):410-6. doi: 10.1002/nbm.1259.

Frequency-dependent tactile responses in rat brain measured by functional MRI.

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Magnetic Resonance Research Center (MRRC), Yale University, New Haven, CT, USA.


We measured frequency-dependent functional MRI (fMRI) activations (at 11.7 T) in the somatosensory cortex with whisker and forepaw stimuli in the same alpha-chloralose anesthetized rats. Whisker and forepaw stimuli were attained by computer-controlled pulses of air puffs and electrical currents, respectively. Air puffs deflected (+/-2 mm) the chosen whisker(s) in the right snout in the rostral to caudal direction, and electrical currents (2 mA amplitude, 0.3 ms duration) stimulated the left forepaw with subcutaneous copper electrodes placed between the second and fourth digits. In the same subject, unimodal stimulation of whisker and forepaw gave rise to significant blood oxygen level-dependent (BOLD) signal increases in corresponding contralateral somatosensory areas of whisker barrel field (S1BF) and forelimb (S1FL), respectively, with no significant spatial overlap between these regions. The BOLD responses in S1(BF) and S1(FL) regions were found to be differentially variable with frequency of each stimulus type. In the S1BF, a linear increase in the BOLD response was observed with whisker stimulation frequency of up to approximately 12 Hz, beyond which the response seemed to saturate (and/or slightly attenuate) up to the maximum frequency studied (i.e. 30 Hz). In the S1FL, the magnitude of the BOLD response was largest at forepaw stimulation frequency between 1.5 and 3 Hz, beyond which the response diminished with little or no activity at frequencies higher than 20 Hz. The volume of tissue activated by each stimulus type followed a similar pattern to that of the stimulation frequency dependence. These results of bimodal whisker and forepaw stimuli in the same subject may provide a framework to study interactions of different tactile modules, with both fMRI and neurophysiology (i.e. inside and outside the magnet).

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