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Front Neuroenergetics. 2010 Jun 14;2:12. doi: 10.3389/fnene.2010.00012. eCollection 2010.

High-resolution optical functional mapping of the human somatosensory cortex.

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Berlin NeuroImaging Center, Charité Universitätsmedizin Berlin Berlin, Germany.


Non-invasive optical imaging of brain function has been promoted in a number of fields in which functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) is limited due to constraints induced by the scanning environment. Beyond physiological and psychological research, bedside monitoring and neurorehabilitation may be relevant clinical applications that are yet little explored. A major obstacle to advocate the tool in clinical research is insufficient spatial resolution. Based on a multi-distance high-density optical imaging setup, we here demonstrate a dramatic increase in sensitivity of the method. We show that optical imaging allows for the differentiation between activations of single finger representations in the primary somatosensory cortex (SI). Methodologically our findings confirm results in a pioneering study by Zeff et al. (2007) and extend them to the homuncular organization of SI. After performing a motor task, eight subjects underwent vibrotactile stimulation of the little finger and the thumb. We used a high-density diffuse-optical sensing array in conjunction with optical tomographic reconstruction. Optical imaging disclosed three discrete activation foci one for motor and two discrete foci for vibrotactile stimulation of the first and fifth finger, respectively. The results were co-registered to the individual anatomical brain anatomy (MRI) which confirmed the localization in the expected cortical gyri in four subjects. This advance in spatial resolution opens new perspectives to apply optical imaging in the research on plasticity notably in patients undergoing neurorehabilitation.


near-infrared spectroscopy; optical imaging; optical tomography; somatosensory system; somatotopy; vibrotactile stimulation

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