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.
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