Ultrasound Produces Extensive Brain Activation via a Cochlear Pathway

Neuron. 2018 Jun 6;98(5):1020-1030.e4. doi: 10.1016/j.neuron.2018.04.036. Epub 2018 May 24.


Ultrasound (US) can noninvasively activate intact brain circuits, making it a promising neuromodulation technique. However, little is known about the underlying mechanism. Here, we apply transcranial US and perform brain mapping studies in guinea pigs using extracellular electrophysiology. We find that US elicits extensive activation across cortical and subcortical brain regions. However, transection of the auditory nerves or removal of cochlear fluids eliminates the US-induced activity, revealing an indirect auditory mechanism for US neural activation. Our findings indicate that US activates the ascending auditory system through a cochlear pathway, which can activate other non-auditory regions through cross-modal projections. This cochlear pathway mechanism challenges the idea that US can directly activate neurons in the intact brain, suggesting that future US stimulation studies will need to control for this effect to reach reliable conclusions.

Keywords: auditory; deep brain stimulation; hearing; hearing aid; neuromodulation; neurostimulation; noninvasive; somatosensory; transcranial; ultrasound.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Auditory Cortex / radiation effects*
  • Auditory Pathways / radiation effects*
  • Brain / radiation effects
  • Brain Mapping
  • Cerebral Cortex / radiation effects
  • Cochlea / radiation effects*
  • Cochlear Nerve / radiation effects*
  • Electrophysiological Phenomena / radiation effects*
  • Guinea Pigs
  • Neurons / radiation effects*
  • Ultrasonic Waves*