A new patterned air-flow device to reveal the network for tactile motion coding using fMRI

J Neurosci Methods. 2022 Jan 1;365:109397. doi: 10.1016/j.jneumeth.2021.109397. Epub 2021 Oct 23.


Background: Studying brain processes underlying tactile perception induced by natural-like stimulation is challenging yet crucial to closely match real-world situations.

New method: We developed a computer-controlled pneumatic device that allows the delivery of complex airflow patterns on subject's body, through a MR-compatible system fixed on an independent clippable mounting device. The intensity of stimulation as well as the timing of each of the four air channels are completely programmable and independent, allowing the precise control and modularity of the airflow delivery.

Results: An analysis of signal-to-noise ratio (SNR) measurements did not show any impact of the PAF device on anatomical or functional scan acquisitions. A psychophysical experiment was also performed on 24 volunteers to evaluate the perception of different airflow patterns delivered over the lower part of their face. It revealed that all participants were able to finely discriminate the direction of these leftward to rightward flow motions. The fMRI experiment, which consisted in presenting to 20 participants four different airflow patterns, shed light on the brain network associated with tactile motion perception. A multivariate analysis further showed a specific coding of the different patterns inside this tactile brain network including the primary and secondary somatosensory cortex COMPARISON WITH EXISTING METHOD(S): The Patterned Air-Flow (PAF) is an easy-to-set-up, portable, adaptable device, which can be spatially and temporally modulated to provide complex tactile stimuli.

Conclusions: This device will be useful to further explore complex dynamic touch exerted over various body parts and can also be combined with visual or auditory stimulation to study multisensory mechanisms.

Keywords: Air stimulation; Cerebral network; MVPA; Motion perception; Pneumatic device.