Somatosensory BOLD fMRI reveals close link between salient blood pressure changes and the murine neuromatrix

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Abstract

The neuromatrix, or “pain matrix”, is a network of cortical brain areas which is activated by noxious as well as salient somatosensory stimulation. This has been studied in mice and humans using blood oxygenation level-dependent (BOLD) fMRI. Here we demonstrate that BOLD effects observed in the murine neuromatrix in response to salient somatosensory stimuli are prone to reflect mean arterial blood pressure (MABP) changes, rather than neural activity. We show that a standard electrostimulus typically used in murine somatosensory fMRI can induce substantial elevations in MABP. Equivalent drug-induced MABP changes — without somatosensory stimulation — evoked BOLD patterns in the neuromatrix strikingly similar to those evoked by electrostimulation. This constitutes a serious caveat for murine fMRI. The regional specificity of these BOLD patterns can be attributed to the co-localization of the neuromatrix with large draining veins. Based on these findings we propose a cardiovascular support mechanism whereby abrupt elevations in MABP provide additional energy supply to the neuromatrix and other essential brain areas in fight-or-flight situations.

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