Functional magnetic resonance imaging can be used to explore tactile and nociceptive processing in the infant brain

Acta Paediatr. 2015 Feb;104(2):158-66. doi: 10.1111/apa.12848. Epub 2014 Dec 1.


Aim: Despite the importance of neonatal skin stimulation, little is known about activation of the newborn human infant brain by sensory stimulation of the skin. We carried out functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) to assess the feasibility of measuring brain activation to a range of mechanical stimuli applied to the skin of neonatal infants.

Methods: We studied 19 term infants with a mean age of 13 days. Brain activation was measured in response to brushing, von Frey hair (vFh) punctate stimulation and, in one case, nontissue damaging pinprick stimulation of the plantar surface of the foot. Initial whole brain analysis was followed by region of interest analysis of specific brain areas.

Results: Distinct patterns of functional brain activation were evoked by brush and vFh punctate stimulation, which were reduced, but still present, under chloral hydrate sedation. Brain activation increased with increasing stimulus intensity. The feasibility of using pinprick stimulation in fMRI studies was established in one unsedated healthy full-term infant.

Conclusion: Distinct brain activity patterns can be measured in response to different modalities and intensities of skin sensory stimulation in term infants. This indicates the potential for fMRI studies in exploring tactile and nociceptive processing in the infant brain.

Keywords: Brain; Cutaneous stimulation; Magnetic resonance imaging; Neonatal; Pain.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Brain / physiology*
  • Chloral Hydrate
  • Feasibility Studies
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Hypnotics and Sedatives
  • Infant, Newborn / physiology*
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging*
  • Male
  • Nociception / physiology*
  • Physical Stimulation


  • Hypnotics and Sedatives
  • Chloral Hydrate