Rodents share general anatomical, physiological and behavioral features in the central auditory system with humans. In this study, monaural broadband noise and pure tone sounds are presented to normal rats and the resulting hemodynamic responses are measured with blood oxygenation level-dependent (BOLD) fMRI using a standard spin-echo echo planar imaging sequence (without sparse temporal sampling). The cochlear nucleus (CN), superior olivary complex, lateral lemniscus, inferior colliculus (IC), medial geniculate body and primary auditory cortex, all major auditory structures, are activated by broadband stimulation. The CN and IC BOLD signal changes increase monotonically with sound pressure level. Pure tone stimulation with three distinct frequencies (7, 20 and 40 kHz) reveals the tonotopic organization of the IC. The activated regions shift from dorsolateral to ventromedial IC with increasing frequency. These results agree with electrophysiology and immunohistochemistry findings, indicating the feasibility of auditory fMRI in rats. This is the first fMRI study of the rodent ascending auditory pathway.
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