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Methods Mol Biol. 2009;489:213-42. doi: 10.1007/978-1-59745-543-5_10.

Tactile and non-tactile sensory paradigms for fMRI and neurophysiologic studies in rodents.

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Department of Diagnostic Radiology, Program in Quantitative Neuroscience with Magnetic Resonance, Magnetic Resonance Research Center, Yale University, School of Medicine, New Haven, CT, USA.


Functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) has become a popular functional imaging tool for human studies. Future diagnostic use of fMRI depends, however, on a suitable neurophysiologic interpretation of the blood oxygenation level dependent (BOLD) signal change. This particular goal is best achieved in animal models primarily due to the invasive nature of other methods used and/or pharmacological agents applied to probe different nuances of neuronal (and glial) activity coupled to the BOLD signal change. In the last decade, we have directed our efforts towards the development of stimulation protocols for a variety of modalities in rodents with fMRI. Cortical perception of the natural world relies on the formation of multi-dimensional representation of stimuli impinging on the different sensory systems, leading to the hypothesis that a sensory stimulus may have very different neurophysiologic outcome(s) when paired with a near simultaneous event in another modality. Before approaching this level of complexity, reliable measures must be obtained of the relatively small changes in the BOLD signal and other neurophysiologic markers (electrical activity, blood flow) induced by different peripheral stimuli. Here we describe different tactile (i.e., forepaw, whisker) and non-tactile (i.e., olfactory, visual) sensory paradigms applied to the anesthetized rat. The main focus is on development and validation of methods for reproducible stimulation of each sensory modality applied independently or in conjunction with one another, both inside and outside the magnet. We discuss similarities and/or differences across the sensory systems as well as advantages they may have for studying essential neuroscientific questions. We envisage that the different sensory paradigms described here may be applied directly to studies of multi-sensory interactions in anesthetized rats, en route to a rudimentary understanding of the awake functioning brain where various sensory cues presumably interrelate.

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