Functional magnetic resonance imaging of the cervical spinal cord during thermal stimulation across consecutive runs

Kenneth A. Weber*, Yufen Chen, Xue Wang, Thorsten Kahnt, Todd B. Parrish

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

12 Scopus citations


The spinal cord is the first site of nociceptive processing in the central nervous system and has a role in the development and perpetuation of clinical pain states. Advancements in functional magnetic resonance imaging are providing a means to non-invasively measure spinal cord function, and functional magnetic resonance imaging may provide an objective method to study spinal cord nociceptive processing in humans. In this study, we tested the validity and reliability of functional magnetic resonance imaging using a selective field-of-view gradient-echo echo-planar-imaging sequence to detect activity induced blood oxygenation level-dependent signal changes in the cervical spinal cord of healthy volunteers during warm and painful thermal stimulation across consecutive runs. At the group and subject level, the activity was localized more to the dorsal hemicord, the spatial extent and magnitude of the activity was greater for the painful stimulus than the warm stimulus, and the spatial extent and magnitude of the activity exceeded that of a control analysis. Furthermore, the spatial extent of the activity for the painful stimuli increased across the runs likely reflecting sensitization. Overall, the spatial localization of the activity varied considerably across the runs, but despite this variability, a machine-learning algorithm was able to successfully decode the stimuli in the spinal cord based on the distributed pattern of the activity. In conclusion, we were able to successfully detect and characterize cervical spinal cord activity during thermal stimulation at the group and subject level.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)267-279
Number of pages13
StatePublished - Dec 1 2016



  • Cervical cord
  • Functional MRI
  • Humans
  • Pain
  • Sensory function
  • Spinal cord
  • Upper extremity

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Neurology
  • Cognitive Neuroscience

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