Functional connectivity and activity of white matter in somatosensory pathways under tactile stimulations
Functional MRI has proven to be effective in detecting neural activity in brain cortices on the basis of blood oxygenation level dependent (BOLD) contrast, but has relatively poor sensitivity for detecting neural activity in white matter. To demonstrate that BOLD signals in white matter are detectable and contain information on neural activity, we stimulated the somatosensory system and examined distributions of BOLD signals in related white matter pathways. The temporal correlation profiles and frequency contents of BOLD signals were compared between stimulation and resting conditions, and between relevant white matter fibers and background regions, as well as between left and right side stimulations. Quantitative analyses show that, overall, MR signals from white matter fiber bundles in the somatosensory system exhibited significantly greater temporal correlations with the primary sensory cortex and greater signal power during tactile stimulations than in a resting state, and were stronger than corresponding measurements for background white matter both during stimulations and in a resting state. The temporal correlation and signal power under stimulation were found to be twice those observed from the same bundle in a resting state, and bore clear relations with the side of stimuli. These indicate that BOLD signals in white matter fibers encode neural activity related to their functional roles connecting cortical volumes, which are detectable with appropriate methods.