Middle ear sensory information has never been localized in the homunculus of the somatosensory cortex (S1). We investigated the somatosensory representation of the middle ear in 15 normal hearing subjects. We applied small air pressure variations to the tympanic membrane while performing a 3T-fMRI study. Unilateral stimulations of the right ear triggered bilateral activations in the caudal part of the postcentral gyrus in Brodmann area 43 (BA 43) and in the auditory associative areas 42 (BA 42) and 22 (BA 22). BA 43 has been found to be involved in activities accompanying oral intake and could be more largely involved in pressure activities in the oropharynx area. The tympanic membrane is indirectly related to the pharynx area through the action of tensor tympani, which is a Eustachian tube muscle. The Eustachian tube muscles have a role in pressure equalization in the middle ear and also have a role in the pharyngeal phase of swallowing. Activation of BA 42 and BA 22 could reflect activations associated with the bilateral acoustic reflex triggered prior to self-vocalization to adjust air pressure in the oropharynx during speech. We propose that BA 43, 42, and 22 are the cortical areas associated with middle ear function. We did not find representation of tympanic membrane movements due to pressure in S1, but its representation in the postcentral gyrus in BA 43 seems to suggest that at least part of this area conveys pure somatosensory information.
Copyright © 2010 Wiley-Liss, Inc.