Functional neuroanatomy of human voluntary cough and sniff production

Neuroimage. 2007 Aug 15;37(2):401-9. doi: 10.1016/j.neuroimage.2007.05.021. Epub 2007 May 24.


Cough and sniff are both spontaneous respiratory behaviors that can be initiated voluntarily in humans. Disturbances of cough may be life threatening, while inability to sniff impairs the sense of smell in neurological patients. Cortical mechanisms of voluntary cough and sniff production have been predicted to exist; however, the localization and function of supramedullary areas responsible for these behaviors are poorly understood. We used functional magnetic resonance imaging to identify the central control of voluntary cough and sniff compared with breathing. We determined that both voluntary cough and sniff require a widespread pattern of sensorimotor activation along the Sylvian fissure convergent with voluntary breathing. Task-specific activation occurred in a pontomesencephalic region during voluntary coughing and in the hippocampus and piriform cortex during voluntary sniffing. Identification of the localization of cortical activation for cough control in humans may help potential drug development to target these regions in patients with chronic cough. Understanding the sensorimotor sniff control mechanisms may provide a new view on the cerebral functional reorganization of olfactory control in patients with neurological disorders.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Intramural

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Brain / anatomy & histology*
  • Brain / physiology*
  • Brain Mapping*
  • Cough*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Image Processing, Computer-Assisted
  • Inhalation / physiology*
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging
  • Male
  • Nose / physiology*