Assessing the spatial distribution of cervical spinal cord activity during tactile stimulation of the upper extremity in humans with functional magnetic resonance imaging

Kenneth A. Weber*, Yufen Chen, Monica Paliwal, Christine S. Law, Benjamin S. Hopkins, Sean Mackey, Yasin Dhaher, Todd B. Parrish, Zachary A. Smith

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

Abstract

Dermatomal maps are a mainstay of clinical practice and provide information on the spatial distribution of the cutaneous innervation of spinal nerves. Dermatomal deficits can help isolate the level of spinal nerve root involvement in spinal conditions and guide clinicians in diagnosis and treatment. Dermatomal maps, however, have limitations, and the spatial distribution of spinal cord sensory activity in humans remains to be quantitatively assessed. Here we used spinal cord functional MRI to map and quantitatively compare the spatial distribution of sensory spinal cord activity during tactile stimulation of the left and right lateral shoulders (i.e. C5 dermatome) and dorsal third digits of the hands (i.e., C7 dermatome) in healthy humans (n ​= ​24, age ​= ​36.8 ​± ​11.8 years). Based on the central sites for processing of innocuous tactile sensory information, we hypothesized that the activity would be localized more to the ipsilateral dorsal spinal cord with the lateral shoulder stimulation activity being localized more superiorly than the dorsal third digit. The findings demonstrate lateralization of the activity with the left- and right-sided stimuli having more activation in the ipsilateral hemicord. Contradictory to our hypotheses, the activity for both stimulation sites was spread across the dorsal and ventral hemicords and did not demonstrate a clear superior-inferior localization. Instead, the activity for both stimuli had a broader than expected distribution, extending across the C5, C6, and C7 spinal cord segments. We highlight the complexity of the human spinal cord neuroanatomy and several sources of variability that may explain the observed patterns of activity. While the findings were not completely consistent with our a priori hypotheses, this study provides a foundation for continued work and is an important step towards developing normative quantitative spinal cord measures of sensory function, which may become useful objective MRI-based biomarkers of neurological injury and improve the management of spinal disorders.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number116905
JournalNeuroimage
Volume217
DOIs
StatePublished - Aug 15 2020

Keywords

  • Functional MRI
  • Humans
  • Sensory function
  • Spinal cord
  • Touch
  • Upper extremity

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Neurology
  • Cognitive Neuroscience

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