Symmetry of fMRI activation in the primary sensorimotor cortex during unilateral chewing

Clin Oral Investig. 2017 May;21(4):967-973. doi: 10.1007/s00784-016-1858-4. Epub 2016 May 24.


Objective: Functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) is one of the most advanced techniques to analyze the cerebral effects on many behavior aspects of the oral system such as chewing and mastication. Studies on imaging of the cerebral representation of chewing demonstrated differential results with respect to cortical lateralization during unilateral chewing. The aim of our study is to clarify the effects of cerebral responses during unilateral chewing.

Material and methods: We used fMRI to compare brain activities during occlusal function in centric occlusion on natural teeth and chewing on a gum located on the right or the left teeth in 15 healthy subjects. Group data were performed by Talairach normalization and in addition by an assignment of activation maxima to individual anatomical landmarks in order to avoid possible loss of spatial preciseness of activation sites by normalization procedures.

Results: Evaluation of group data by Talairach normalization revealed representation sites for occlusal movements in bilateral primary (S1) and secondary (S2) somatosensory cortices, primary motor (M1) and premotor cortices, supplementary motor area (SMA) and medial cingulate gyrus, bilateral anterior cerebellar hemispheres and vermis, insula, orbitofrontal cortex, thalamus, and left pallidum. Right-sided chewing showed no differential activation to left-sided chewing, and both showed activation in areas also involved in bilateral occlusion. Both techniques, the one based on group normalization and the one based on an individual evaluation method, revealed remarkable low differences in activation maximum location in the primary motor, the primary and secondary somatosensory cortices, and the anterior cerebellar lobe. All chewing movements tested involved bilateral sensorimotor activation without a significant lateralization of activation intensities.

Conclusion: Overall, a general lateralization of occlusion movements to the dominant side could not be verified in the present study. Chewing on the left or on the right side of teeth makes no difference for brain representation of chewing.

Clinical relevance: The results describe the basic effects of what we can expect by evaluation of cerebral effects of chewing and mastication. Based on these results, clinical fMRI studies can be performed in different patient groups.

Keywords: Cerebral representation of chewing; Primary motor cortex; Unilateral.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Anatomic Landmarks
  • Dental Occlusion, Centric
  • Female
  • Healthy Volunteers
  • Humans
  • Image Processing, Computer-Assisted
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging / methods*
  • Male
  • Mastication / physiology*
  • Sensorimotor Cortex / physiology*