Design, construction, and validation of an MRI-compatible vibrotactile stimulator intended for clinical use

J Neurosci Methods. 2009 Oct 30;184(1):129-35. doi: 10.1016/j.jneumeth.2009.07.018. Epub 2009 Jul 23.


Vibrotactile stimulation has been used successfully to activate the human somatosensory pathway in functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) experiments. The design and characterization of these devices are of particular interest in frequency discrimination tasks and investigations of the somatopic organization of sensory areas. However, few have investigated the utility of vibrotactile stimulation in a clinical context. We have previously demonstrated that vibrotactile stimulation can provide robust activations in areas targeted in stereotactic functional neurosurgical procedures used for tumour resection (i.e.: primary and secondary somatosensory areas) and subcortical targets for thalamic pain and movement disorders (i.e.: sensory thalamus). The main contribution of this manuscript is the presentation of the design, materials, construction, and validation of a novel vibrotactile stimulator intended for clinical use. The thalamic activations are also compared to a digital atlas in order to evaluate anatomical localization. The proposed stimulator was constructed entirely from non-ferromagnetic parts, uses compressed air to deliver stimulation using computer control, and stimulates the entirety of the hand and fingers to ensure robust somatosensory activations. In addition, this stimulator is constructed entirely from "off-the-shelf" parts and would be easily replicated due to the simplicity of design and the relatively small expense of the parts required. The device was tested by stimulating the right hand of 10 normal controls (5 females, 5 males, all right handed; age range: 25-42 years, mean: 30.9 years, standard deviation: 5.2 years) during an fMRI experiment. The results demonstrate significant single subject activations of primary and secondary somatosensory cortices and of the sensory thalamus.

Publication types

  • Validation Study

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Basal Ganglia / physiology
  • Computer-Aided Design
  • Equipment Design
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging / instrumentation*
  • Male
  • Physical Stimulation / instrumentation*
  • Thalamus / physiology
  • Touch Perception / physiology
  • Vibration*