Measurement and characterization of the human spinal cord SEEP response using event-related spinal fMRI (2012)

Author(s): CR Figley and PW Stroman

Magnetic Resonance Imaging 30(4): 471-484.

Although event-related fMRI is able to reliably detect brief changes in brain activity and is now widely used throughout systems and cognitive neuroscience, there have been no previous reports of event-related spinal cord fMRI. This is likely attributable to the various technical challenges associated with spinal fMRI (e.g., imaging a suitable length of the cord, reducing image artifacts from the vertebrae and intervertebral discs, and dealing with physiological noise from spinal cord motion). However, with many of these issues now resolved, the largest remaining impediment for event-related spinal fMRI is a deprived understanding of the spinal cord fMRI signal time course. Therefore, in this study, we used a proton density-weighted HASTE sequence, with functional contrast based on signal enhancement by extravascular water protons (SEEP), and a motion-compensating GLM analysis to (i) characterize the SEEP response function in the human cervical spinal cord and (ii) demonstrate the feasibility of event-related spinal fMRI. This was achieved by applying very brief (1 s) epochs of 22°C thermal stimulation to the palm of the hand and measuring the impulse response function. Our results suggest that the spinal cord SEEP response (time to peak ≈8 s; FWHM ≈4 s; and probably lacking pre- and poststimulus undershoots) is slower than previous estimates of SEEP or BOLD responses in the brain, but faster than previously reported spinal cord BOLD responses. Finally, by detecting and mapping consistent signal-intensity changes within and across subjects, and validating these regions with a block-designed experiment, this study represents the first successful demonstration of event-related spinal fMRI.

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