Functional localization of brainstem and cervical spinal cord nuclei in humans with fMRI

Barry R. Komisaruk, Kristine M. Mosier, Wen Ching Liu, Cecily Criminale, Laszlo Zaborszky, Beverly Whipple, Andrew Kalnin

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

72 Scopus citations


BACKGROUND AND PURPOSE: To our knowledge, no published functional map of the human lower brainstem exists. Our purpose was to use 1.5-T functional MR imaging (fMRI) to visualize the location of cranial nerve (CN) nuclei and other pontine, bulbar, and cervical spinal cord nuclei by using specific sensory stimulation or motor performance. METHODS: We localized nuclei by using cross-correlation analysis of regional blood oxygen level-dependent (BOLD) signal intensity during specific motor and sensory procedures based on known functions of specific nuclei. Statistical parametric mapping (SPM) analysis was used for comparison. Head, cardiac, and respiratory motion artifact correction was applied. Histologic atlases aided localization. RESULTS: We obtained evidence of localization of the following nuclei by using tests, as follows: main trigeminal sensory (CN V), brushing the face; abducens (CN VI), left-right eye movement; facial (CN VII), smiling and lip puckering; hypoglossal (CN XII), pushing the tongue against the hard palate; nucleus ambiguus, swallowing; nucleus tractus solitarii (NTS), tasting a sweet-sour-salty-bitter mixture; nucleus cuneatus, finger tapping; and cervical spinal cord levels C1-C3, tongue movement to activate the strap muscles. Activation of cortical motor and sensory areas and somatosensory thalamus corresponded with the tasks and sites of brainstem activation. Head movement was minimal, typically less than 1 mm in all three axes. CONCLUSION: With 1.5-T fMRI, the CN nuclei of the pons and medulla, and other nuclei of the lower brainstem and cervical spinal cord, can be localized in awake humans with specific sensory stimulation or motor performance.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)609-617
Number of pages9
JournalAmerican Journal of Neuroradiology
Issue number4
StatePublished - 2002

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Radiology Nuclear Medicine and imaging
  • Clinical Neurology

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