Cortical processing of residual ano-rectal sensation in patients with spinal cord injury: an fMRI study

Neurogastroenterol Motil. 2008 May;20(5):488-97. doi: 10.1111/j.1365-2982.2007.01063.x. Epub 2008 Feb 24.


Eleven paraplegic patients with complete traumatic spinal cord injuries (SCI) [according to American Spinal Injury Association (ASIA) criteria] at different levels (Th3-L3) were investigated during non-painful stimulation of the distal rectum and anal canal, using event related functional magnetic resonance imaging. Although a complete lesion was clinically diagnosed in all, four of them experienced reproducible sensations during anal and/or rectal stimulation. In six patients, individual data analysis revealed significant activation in the right secondary somatosensory cortex SII, the posterior cingular gyrus, the prefrontal cortex, and the left posterior cerebellar lobe during either anal or rectal stimulation or both. A Region of interest analysis using a data mask from healthy controls confirmed that SCI patients demonstrate cortical activation in areas similar to those activated in healthy volunteers, but to a less extensive degree. This supports the notion that the diagnosis of complete spinal cord transsection by ASIA criteria alone may be insufficient for assessment of 'completeness' of cord lesions, and that visceral sensitivity testing may be required in addition.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Anal Canal / physiology*
  • Brain Mapping / methods
  • Cerebral Cortex / physiology*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging / methods*
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Physical Stimulation / methods
  • Rectum / physiology*
  • Sensation / physiology*
  • Spinal Cord Injuries / diagnosis
  • Spinal Cord Injuries / physiopathology*