Previous studies have used fMRI to address the relationship between grip force (GF) applied to an object and BOLD response. However, whilst the majority of these studies showed a linear relationship between GF and neural activity in the contralateral M1 and ipsilateral cerebellum, animal studies have suggested the presence of non-linear components in the GF–neural activity relationship. Here, we present a methodology for assessing non-linearities in the BOLD response to different GF levels, within primary motor as well as sensory and cognitive areas and the cerebellum. To be sensitive to complex forms, we designed a feasible grip task with five GF targets using an event-related visually guided paradigm and studied a cohort of 13 healthy volunteers. Polynomial functions of increasing order were fitted to the data. Major findings: (1) activated motor areas irrespective of GF; (2) positive higher-order responses in and outside M1, involving premotor, sensory and visual areas and cerebellum; (3) negative correlations with GF, predominantly involving the visual domain. Overall, our results suggest that there are physiologically consistent behaviour patterns in cerebral and cerebellar cortices; for example, we observed the presence of a second-order effect in sensorimotor areas, consistent with an optimum metabolic response at intermediate GF levels, while higher-order behaviour was found in associative and cognitive areas. At higher GF levels, sensory-related cortical areas showed reduced activation, interpretable as a redistribution of the neural activity for more demanding tasks. These results have the potential of opening new avenues for investigating pathological mechanisms of neurological diseases.
Financed by the National Centre for Research and Development under grant No. SP/I/1/77065/10 by the strategic scientific research and experimental development program:
SYNAT - “Interdisciplinary System for Interactive Scientific and Scientific-Technical Information”.