Pulsed Ultrasound Differentially Stimulates Somatosensory Circuits in Humans as Indicated by EEG and fMRI
Sato, Tomokazu F.
Tyler, William J.
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Peripheral somatosensory circuits are known to respond to diverse stimulus modalities. The energy modalities capable of eliciting somatosensory responses traditionally belong to mechanical, thermal, electromagnetic, and photonic domains. Ultrasound (US) applied to the periphery has also been reported to evoke diverse somatosensations. These observations however have been based primarily on subjective reports and lack neurophysiological descriptions. To investigate the effects of peripherally applied US on human somatosensory brain circuit activity we recorded evoked potentials using electroencephalography and conducted functional magnetic resonance imaging of blood oxygen level-dependent (BOLD) responses to fingertip stimulation with pulsed US. We found a pulsed US waveform designed to elicit a mild vibration sensation reliably triggered evoked potentials having distinct waveform morphologies including a large double-peaked vertex potential. Fingertip stimulation with this pulsed US waveform also led to the appearance of BOLD signals in brain regions responsible for somatosensory discrimination including the primary somatosensory cortex and parietal operculum, as well as brain regions involved in hierarchical somatosensory processing, such as the insula, anterior middle cingulate cortex, and supramarginal gyrus. By changing the energy profile of the pulsed US stimulus waveform we observed pulsed US can differentially activate somatosensory circuits and alter subjective reports that are concomitant with changes in evoked potential morphology and BOLD response patterns. Based on these observations we conclude pulsed US can functionally stimulate different somatosensory fibers and receptors, which may permit new approaches to the study and diagnosis of peripheral nerve injury, dysfunction, and disease.