Functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) is a technique that uses blood oxygen-level-dependent (BOLD) signals to elucidate discrete areas of neuronal activity. Despite the significant number of fMRI human brain studies, few researchers have applied fMRI technology to investigating neuronal activity within the human spinal cord. Our study goals were to demonstrate that fMRI could reveal the following: (i) appropriate somatotopic activations in response to noxious stimuli in the deep and superficial dorsal horn of the human cervical spinal cord, and (ii) lateralization of fMRI activations in response to noxious stimulation in the right and left upper extremity. We subjected healthy participants to noxious stimulation during fMRI scans. Using a spiral in-out image sequence and retrospective correction for physiologic noise, we demonstrated that fMRI can create high-resolution, neuronal activation maps of the human cervical spinal cord. During nociceptive stimulation of all 4 sites (left deltoid, right deltoid, left thenar eminence and right thenar eminence), we found ipsilateral dorsal horn activation. Stimulation of the deltoid activated C5, whereas stimulation of the thenar eminence activated C6. Our study contributes to creating an objective analysis of pain transmission; other investigators can use these results to further study central nervous system changes that occur in patients with acute and chronic pain.
Copyright © 2012. Published by Elsevier B.V.