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Head Neck. 2011 Oct;33 Suppl 1:S14-20. doi: 10.1002/hed.21903. Epub 2011 Sep 7.

Functional MRI of swallowing: from neurophysiology to neuroplasticity.

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Department of Biobehavioral Sciences, Program of Speech and Language Pathology, Teachers College, Columbia University, New York, New York, USA.


Swallowing is a complex neurogenic sensorimotor process involving all levels of the neuraxis and a vast number of muscles and anatomic structures. Disruption of any of these anatomic or functional components can lead to swallowing disorders (also known as dysphagia). Understanding the neural pathways that govern swallowing is necessary in diagnosing and treating patients with dysphagia. Functional MRI (fMRI) is a prevalent and effective neuroimaging method that has been used to study the complex neurophysiologic control of swallowing in vivo. This article presents a summary of the research studies that have used fMRI to study the neural control of swallowing in normal subjects and dysphagic patients, and to investigate the effects of swallowing treatments on neuroplasticity. Methodologic challenges and caveats are discussed, and a case study of a pre-posttreatment paradigm is presented to highlight potential future directions of fMRI applications in swallowing research and clinical practice.

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