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Resting-state functional MRI (rsfMRI) has recently revealed correlated signals in the spinal cord horns of monkeys and humans. However, the interpretation of these rsfMRI correlations as indicators of functional connectivity in the spinal cord remains unclear. Here, we recorded stimulus-evoked and spontaneous spiking activity and local field potentials (LFPs) from monkey spinal cord in order to validate fMRI measures. We found that both BOLD and electrophysiological signals elicited by tactile stimulation co-localized to the ipsilateral dorsal horn. Temporal profiles of stimulus-evoked BOLD signals covaried with LFP and multiunit spiking in a similar way to those observed in the brain. Functional connectivity of dorsal horns exhibited a U-shaped profile along the dorsal-intermediate-ventral axis. Overall, these results suggest that there is an intrinsic functional architecture within the gray matter of a single spinal segment, and that rsfMRI signals at high field directly reflect this underlying spontaneous neuronal activity.
BACKGROUND - The human somatosensory system comprises dissociable paths for discriminative and affective touch, reflected in separate peripheral afferent populations and distinct cortical targets. Differences in behavioral and neural responses to affective touch may have an important developmental role in early social experiences, which are relevant for autism spectrum disorder (ASD).
METHODS - Using probabilistic tractography, we compared the structural integrity of white matter pathways for discriminative and affective touch in young children with ASD and their typically developing (TD) peers. We examined two tracts: (1) a tract linking the thalamus with the primary somatosensory cortex, which carries discriminative tactile information, and (2) a tract linking the posterior insula-the cortical projection target of unmyelinated tactile afferents mediating affective touch-with the anterior insula, which integrates sensory and visceral inputs to interpret emotional salience of sensory stimuli. We investigated associations between tract integrity and performance on a standardized observational assessment measuring tactile discrimination and affective responses to touch.
RESULTS - Both the thalamocortical and intrainsular tracts showed reduced integrity (higher mean diffusivity) in the ASD group compared to those in the TD group. Consistent with the previous findings, the ASD group exhibited impaired tactile discriminative ability, more tactile defensiveness, and more sensory seeking (e.g., enthusiastic play or repetitive engagement with a specific tactile stimulus). There was a significant relation between intrainsular tract integrity and tactile seeking. The direction of this relation differed between groups: higher intrainsular mean diffusivity (MD) (reflecting decreased tract integrity) was associated with increased tactile seeking in the TD group but with decreased tactile seeking in the ASD group. In the TD group, decreased tactile defensiveness was also associated with higher intrainsular MD, but there was no relation in the ASD group. Discriminative touch was not significantly associated with integrity of either tract in either group.
CONCLUSIONS - These results support previous findings suggesting a central role for the insula in affective response to touch. While both discriminative and affective touch and both somatosensory tracts are affected in ASD, the restriction of brain-behavior associations to the intrainsular tract and tactile seeking suggests more complex and perhaps higher-order influence on differences in tactile defensiveness and discrimination.
Functional MRI has proven to be effective in detecting neural activity in brain cortices on the basis of blood oxygenation level dependent (BOLD) contrast, but has relatively poor sensitivity for detecting neural activity in white matter. To demonstrate that BOLD signals in white matter are detectable and contain information on neural activity, we stimulated the somatosensory system and examined distributions of BOLD signals in related white matter pathways. The temporal correlation profiles and frequency contents of BOLD signals were compared between stimulation and resting conditions, and between relevant white matter fibers and background regions, as well as between left and right side stimulations. Quantitative analyses show that, overall, MR signals from white matter fiber bundles in the somatosensory system exhibited significantly greater temporal correlations with the primary sensory cortex and greater signal power during tactile stimulations than in a resting state, and were stronger than corresponding measurements for background white matter both during stimulations and in a resting state. The temporal correlation and signal power under stimulation were found to be twice those observed from the same bundle in a resting state, and bore clear relations with the side of stimuli. These indicate that BOLD signals in white matter fibers encode neural activity related to their functional roles connecting cortical volumes, which are detectable with appropriate methods.
Copyright © 2017 Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
Spatial localization of touch is critically dependent upon coordinate transformation between different reference frames, which must ultimately allow for alignment between somatotopic and external representations of space. Although prior work has shown an important role for cues such as body posture in influencing the spatial localization of touch, the relative contributions of the different sensory systems to this process are unknown. In the current study, we had participants perform a tactile temporal order judgment (TOJ) under different body postures and conditions of sensory deprivation. Specifically, participants performed non-speeded judgments about the order of two tactile stimuli presented in rapid succession on their ankles during conditions in which their legs were either uncrossed or crossed (and thus bringing somatotopic and external reference frames into conflict). These judgments were made in the absence of 1) visual, 2) auditory, or 3) combined audio-visual spatial information by blindfolding and/or placing participants in an anechoic chamber. As expected, results revealed that tactile temporal acuity was poorer under crossed than uncrossed leg postures. Intriguingly, results also revealed that auditory and audio-visual deprivation exacerbated the difference in tactile temporal acuity between uncrossed to crossed leg postures, an effect not seen for visual-only deprivation. Furthermore, the effects under combined audio-visual deprivation were greater than those seen for auditory deprivation. Collectively, these results indicate that mechanisms governing the alignment between somatotopic and external reference frames extend beyond those imposed by body posture to include spatial features conveyed by the auditory and visual modalities - with a heavier weighting of auditory than visual spatial information. Thus, sensory modalities conveying exteroceptive spatial information contribute to judgments regarding the localization of touch.
Copyright © 2016 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.
Mesoscale local functional organizations of the primate spinal cord are largely unknown. Using high-resolution fMRI at 9.4 T, we identified distinct interhorn and intersegment fMRI activation patterns to tactile versus nociceptive heat stimulation of digits in lightly anesthetized monkeys. Within a spinal segment, 8 Hz vibrotactile stimuli elicited predominantly fMRI activations in the middle part of ipsilateral dorsal horn (iDH), along with significantly weaker activations in ipsilateral (iVH) and contralateral (cVH) ventral horns. In contrast, nociceptive heat stimuli evoked widespread strong activations in the superficial part of iDH, as well as in iVH and contralateral dorsal (cDH) horns. As controls, only weak signal fluctuations were detected in the white matter. The iDH responded most strongly to both tactile and heat stimuli, whereas the cVH and cDH responded selectively to tactile versus nociceptive heat, respectively. Across spinal segments, iDH activations were detected in three consecutive segments in both tactile and heat conditions. Heat responses, however, were more extensive along the cord, with strong activations in iVH and cDH in two consecutive segments. Subsequent subunit B of cholera toxin tracer histology confirmed that the spinal segments showing fMRI activations indeed received afferent inputs from the stimulated digits. Comparisons of the fMRI signal time courses in early somatosensory area 3b and iDH revealed very similar hemodynamic stimulus-response functions. In summary, we identified with fMRI distinct segmental networks for the processing of tactile and nociceptive heat stimuli in the cervical spinal cord of nonhuman primates. Significance statement: This is the first fMRI demonstration of distinct intrasegmental and intersegmental nociceptive heat and touch processing circuits in the spinal cord of nonhuman primates. This study provides novel insights into the local functional organizations of the primate spinal cord for pain and touch, information that will be valuable for designing and optimizing therapeutic interventions for chronic pain management.
Copyright © 2015 the authors 0270-6474/15/3510493-10$15.00/0.
The M1 muscarinic acetylcholine receptor (mAChR) subtype has been implicated in the underlying mechanisms of learning and memory and represents an important potential pharmacotherapeutic target for the cognitive impairments observed in neuropsychiatric disorders such as schizophrenia. Patients with schizophrenia show impairments in top-down processing involving conflict between sensory-driven and goal-oriented processes that can be modeled in preclinical studies using touchscreen-based cognition tasks. The present studies used a touchscreen visual pairwise discrimination task in which mice discriminated between a less salient and a more salient stimulus to assess the influence of the M1 mAChR on top-down processing. M1 mAChR knockout (M1 KO) mice showed a slower rate of learning, evidenced by slower increases in accuracy over 12 consecutive days, and required more days to acquire (achieve 80% accuracy) this discrimination task compared to wild-type mice. In addition, the M1 positive allosteric modulator BQCA enhanced the rate of learning this discrimination in wild-type, but not in M1 KO, mice when BQCA was administered daily prior to testing over 12 consecutive days. Importantly, in discriminations between stimuli of equal salience, M1 KO mice did not show impaired acquisition and BQCA did not affect the rate of learning or acquisition in wild-type mice. These studies are the first to demonstrate performance deficits in M1 KO mice using touchscreen cognitive assessments and enhanced rate of learning and acquisition in wild-type mice through M1 mAChR potentiation when the touchscreen discrimination task involves top-down processing. Taken together, these findings provide further support for M1 potentiation as a potential treatment for the cognitive symptoms associated with schizophrenia.
The goal of this study was to explore neural response to touch in children with and without autism spectrum disorder (ASD). Patterns of reduced (hypo-responsiveness) and enhanced (hyper-responsiveness) behavioral reaction to sensory input are prevalent in ASD, but their neural mechanisms are poorly understood. We measured event-related potentials (ERP) to a puff of air on the fingertip and collected parent report of tactile hypo- and hyper-responsiveness in children with ASD (n = 21, mean (SD) age 11.25 (3.09), 2 female), and an age-matched typically developing comparison group (n = 28, mean (SD) age 10.1 (3.08, 2 female). A global measure of ERP response strength approximately 220-270 ms post-stimulus was associated with tactile hypo-responsiveness in ASD, while tactile hyper-responsiveness was associated with earlier neural response (approximately 120-220 ms post-stimulus) in both groups. These neural responses also related to autism severity. These results suggest that, in ASD, tactile hypo- and hyper-responsiveness may reflect different waypoints in the neural processing stream of sensory input. The timing of the relationship for hyper-responsiveness is consistent with somatosensory association cortical response, while that for hypo-responsiveness is more consistent with later processes that may involve allocation of attention or emotional valence to the stimulus.
Recent demonstrations of correlated low-frequency MRI signal variations between subregions of the spinal cord at rest in humans, similar to those found in the brain, suggest that such resting-state functional connectivity constitutes a common feature of the intrinsic organization of the entire central nervous system. We report our detection of functional connectivity within the spinal cords of anesthetized squirrel monkeys at rest and show that the strength of connectivity within these networks is altered by the effects of injuries. By quantifying the low-frequency MRI signal correlations between different horns within spinal cord gray matter, we found distinct functional connectivity relationships between the different sensory and motor horns, a pattern that was similar to activation patterns evoked by nociceptive heat or tactile stimulation of digits. All horns within a single spinal segment were functionally connected, with the strongest connectivity occurring between ipsilateral dorsal and ventral horns. Each horn was strongly connected to the same horn on neighboring segments, but this connectivity reduced drastically along the spinal cord. Unilateral injury to the spinal cord significantly weakened the strength of the intrasegment horn-to-horn connectivity only on the injury side and in slices below the lesion. These findings suggest resting-state functional connectivity may be a useful biomarker of functional integrity in injured and recovering spinal cords.
Inter-areal and ipsilateral cortical responses to tactile stimulation have not been well described in human S1 cortex. By taking advantage of the high signal-to-noise ratio at 7 T, we quantified blood oxygenation level dependent (BOLD) response patterns and time courses to tactile stimuli on individual distal finger pads at a fine spatial scale, and examined whether there are inter-areal (area 3b versus area 1) and interhemispheric response differences to unilateral tactile stimulation in healthy human subjects. We found that 2-Hz tactile stimulation of individual fingertips evoked detectable BOLD signal changes in both contralateral and ipsilateral area 3b and area 1. Contralateral digit activations were organized in an orderly somatotopic manner, and BOLD responses in area 3b were more digit selective than those in area 1. However, the area of cortex that was responsive to stimulation of a single digit (stimulus-response field) was similar across areas. In the ipsilateral hemisphere, response magnitudes in both areas 3b and 1 were significantly weaker than those of the contralateral hemisphere. Digit activations exhibited no clear somatotopic organizational pattern in either area 3b or area 1, yet digit selectivity was retained in area 1 but not in area 3b. The observation of distinct digit-selective responses of contralateral area 3b versus area 1 supports a higher order function of contralateral area 1 in spatial integration. In contrast, ipsilateral cortices may play a less discriminative role in the perception of unilateral tactile sensation in humans.
Copyright © 2014 Wiley Periodicals, Inc.
PURPOSE - This is a pilot study investigating the effect of healing touch (HT) on fatigue in breast cancer patients undergoing radiation therapy (RT).
METHODS/DESIGN - This study presents the results of a within-subjects design randomized clinical trial where the treatment group was treated with HT, whereas the control group experienced sham therapy. The setting was a university RT clinic. The participants were breast cancer patients treated with lumpectomy or mastectomy, 21 to 75 years old with an Eastern Cooperative Oncology Group (ECOG) score of 0 to 2. The intervention was a 45-minute session of HT or sham therapy once a week during RT. Outcome measures included fatigue, quality of life (QOL), and anxiety/depression.
RESULT - A total of 70 patients were approached, with 41 completing the study. At completion, the HT participants tended to report higher levels of fatigue, statistically significant for interference ( : = .010) and usual fatigue ( : = .024). The control group tended to report greater reductions in fatigue relative to their own means than the HT group (Cohen's : = 0.30 to 0.49 vs 0.06 to 0.18, respectively). There were no statistically significant differences between the groups for QOL.
CONCLUSION - Our enrollment and retention indicate that HT is feasible for women during RT. Our pilot findings do not support a beneficial effect of HT on fatigue or QOL. Future research may explore increasing dose and teasing out therapist effect.