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Brain Connect. 2013;3(1):87-97. doi: 10.1089/brain.2012.0123.

Altered connectivity of the balance processing network after tongue stimulation in balance-impaired individuals.

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Neuroscience Training Program, University of Wisconsin, Madison, Wisconsin 53705, USA.


Some individuals with balance impairment have hypersensitivity of the motion-sensitive visual cortices (hMT+) compared to healthy controls. Previous work showed that electrical tongue stimulation can reduce the exaggerated postural sway induced by optic flow in this subject population and decrease the hypersensitive response of hMT+. Additionally, a region within the brainstem (BS), likely containing the vestibular and trigeminal nuclei, showed increased optic flow-induced activity after tongue stimulation. The aim of this study was to understand how the modulation induced by tongue stimulation affects the balance-processing network as a whole and how modulation of BS structures can influence cortical activity. Four volumes of interest, discovered in a general linear model analysis, constitute major contributors to the balance-processing network. These regions were entered into a dynamic causal modeling analysis to map the network and measure any connection or topology changes due to the stimulation. Balance-impaired individuals had downregulated response of the primary visual cortex (V1) to visual stimuli but upregulated modulation of the connection between V1 and hMT+ by visual motion compared to healthy controls (p ≤ 1E-5). This upregulation was decreased to near-normal levels after stimulation. Additionally, the region within the BS showed increased response to visual motion after stimulation compared to both prestimulation and controls. Stimulation to the tongue enters the central nervous system at the BS but likely propagates to the cortex through supramodal information transfer. We present a model to explain these brain responses that utilizes an anatomically present, but functionally dormant pathway of information flow within the processing network.

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