Background: To observe brain activation induced by functional electrical stimulation, voluntary contraction, and the combination of both using functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI).
Methods: Nineteen healthy young men were enrolled in the study. We employed a typical block design that consisted of three sessions: voluntary contraction only, functional electrical stimulation (FES)-induced wrist extension, and finally simultaneous voluntary and FES-induced movement. MRI acquisition was performed on a 3.0 T MR system. To investigate activation in each session, one-sample t-tests were performed after correcting for false discovery rate (FDR; p < 0.05). To compare FES-induced movement and combined contraction, a two-sample t-test was performed using a contrast map (p < 0.01).
Results: In the voluntary contraction alone condition, brain activation was observed in the contralateral primary motor cortex (MI), thalamus, bilateral supplementary motor area (SMA), primary sensory cortex (SI), secondary somatosensory motor cortex (SII), caudate, and cerebellum (mainly ipsilateral). During FES-induced wrist movement, brain activation was observed in the contralateral MI, SI, SMA, thalamus, ipsilateral SII, and cerebellum. During FES-induced movement combined with voluntary contraction, brain activation was found in the contralateral MI, anterior cingulate cortex (ACC), SMA, ipsilateral cerebellum, bilateral SII, and SI.The activated brain regions (number of voxels) of the MI, SI, cerebellum, and SMA were largest during voluntary contraction alone and smallest during FES alone. SII-activated brain regions were largest during voluntary contraction combined with FES and smallest during FES contraction alone. The brain activation extent (maximum t score) of the MI, SI, and SII was largest during voluntary contraction alone and smallest during FES alone. The brain activation extent of the cerebellum and SMA during voluntary contraction alone was similar during FES combined with voluntary contraction; however, cerebellum and SMA activation during FES movement alone was smaller than that of voluntary contraction alone or voluntary contraction combined with FES. Between FES movement alone and combined contraction, activated regions and extent due to combined contraction was significantly higher than that of FES movement alone in the ipsilateral cerebellum and the contralateral MI and SI.
Conclusions: Voluntary contraction combined with FES may be more effective for brain activation than FES-only movements for rehabilitation therapy. In addition, voluntary effort is the most important factor in the therapeutic process.