Dissociating the spatio-temporal characteristics of cortical neuronal activity associated with human volitional swallowing in the healthy adult brain

Paul Lawrence Furlong, A R Hobson, Q Aziz, G R Barnes, K D Singh, A Hillebrand, D G Thompson, S Hamdy

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review

87 Citations (Scopus)


Human swallowing represents a complex highly coordinated sensorimotor function whose functional neuroanatomy remains incompletely understood. Specifically, previous studies have failed to delineate the temporo-spatial sequence of those cerebral loci active during the differing phases of swallowing. We therefore sought to define the temporal characteristics of cortical activity associated with human swallowing behaviour using a novel application of magnetoencephalography (MEG). In healthy volunteers (n = 8, aged 28-45), 151-channel whole cortex MEG was recorded during the conditions of oral water infusion, volitional wet swallowing (5 ml bolus), tongue thrust or rest. Each condition lasted for 5 s and was repeated 20 times. Synthetic aperture magnetometry (SAM) analysis was performed on each active epoch and compared to rest. Temporal sequencing of brain activations utilised time-frequency wavelet plots of regions selected using virtual electrodes. Following SAM analysis, water infusion preferentially activated the caudolateral sensorimotor cortex, whereas during volitional swallowing and tongue movement, the superior sensorimotor cortex was more strongly active. Time-frequency wavelet analysis indicated that sensory input from the tongue simultaneously activated caudolateral sensorimotor and primary gustatory cortex, which appeared to prime the superior sensory and motor cortical areas, involved in the volitional phase of swallowing. Our data support the existence of a temporal synchrony across the whole cortical swallowing network, with sensory input from the tongue being critical. Thus, the ability to non-invasively image this network, with intra-individual and high temporal resolution, provides new insights into the brain processing of human swallowing.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1447-55
Number of pages9
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - Aug 2004
Externally publishedYes


  • Adult
  • Brain Mapping
  • Cerebral Cortex/physiology
  • Deglutition/physiology
  • Female
  • Fourier Analysis
  • Humans
  • Image Processing, Computer-Assisted
  • Imaging, Three-Dimensional
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging
  • Magnetoencephalography
  • Male
  • Motor Cortex/physiology
  • Nerve Net/physiology
  • Reaction Time/physiology
  • Somatosensory Cortex/physiology
  • Tongue/innervation

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