Functional exploration of the human spinal cord during voluntary movement and somatosensory stimulation

Paul E. Summers, Gian Domenico Iannetti, Carlo A. Porro

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Demonstrations of the possibility of obtaining functional information from the spinal cord in humans using functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) have been growing in number and sophistication, but the technique and the results that it provides are still perceived by the scientific community with a greater degree of scepticism than fMRI investigations of brain function. Here we review the literature on spinal fMRI in humans during voluntary movements and somatosensory stimulation. Particular attention is given to study design, acquisition and statistical analysis of the images, and to the agreement between the obtained results and existing knowledge regarding spinal cord anatomy and physiology.A striking weakness of many spinal fMRI studies is the use of small numbers of subjects and of time-points in the acquired functional image series. In addition, spinal fMRI is characterised by large physiological noise, while the recorded functional responses are poorly characterised. For all these reasons, spinal fMRI experiments risk having low statistical power, and few spinal fMRI studies have yielded physiologically relevant information.Thus, while available evidence indicates that spinal fMRI is feasible, we are only approaching the stage at which the technique can be considered to have been rigorously established as a viable means of noninvasively investigating spinal cord functioning in humans.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1216-1224
Number of pages9
JournalMagnetic Resonance Imaging
Issue number8
Publication statusPublished - Oct 2010


  • FMRI
  • Human
  • Spinal cord

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Biophysics
  • Radiology Nuclear Medicine and imaging
  • Biomedical Engineering

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