Functional connectome of brainstem nuclei involved in autonomic, limbic, pain and sensory processing in living humans from 7 Tesla resting state fMRI

Simone Cauzzo, Kavita Singh, Matthew Stauder, María Guadalupe García-Gomar, Nicola Vanello, Claudio Passino, Jeffrey Staab, Iole Indovina, Marta Bianciardi

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Despite remarkable advances in mapping the functional connectivity of the cortex, the functional connectivity of subcortical regions is understudied in living humans. This is the case for brainstem nuclei that control vital processes, such as autonomic, limbic, nociceptive and sensory functions. This is because of the lack of precise brainstem nuclei localization, of adequate sensitivity and resolution in the deepest brain regions, as well as of optimized processing for the brainstem. To close the gap between the cortex and the brainstem, on 20 healthy subjects, we computed a correlation-based functional connectome of 15 brainstem nuclei involved in autonomic, limbic, nociceptive, and sensory function (superior and inferior colliculi, ventral tegmental area-parabrachial pigmented nucleus complex, microcellular tegmental nucleus-prabigeminal nucleus complex, lateral and medial parabrachial nuclei, vestibular and superior olivary complex, superior and inferior medullary reticular formation, viscerosensory motor nucleus, raphe magnus, pallidus, and obscurus, and parvicellular reticular nucleus – alpha part) with the rest of the brain. Specifically, we exploited 1.1mm isotropic resolution 7 Tesla resting-state fMRI, ad-hoc coregistration and physiological noise correction strategies, and a recently developed probabilistic template of brainstem nuclei. Further, we used 2.5mm isotropic resolution resting-state fMRI data acquired on a 3 Tesla scanner to assess the translatability of our results to conventional datasets. We report highly consistent correlation coefficients across subjects, confirming available literature on autonomic, limbic, nociceptive and sensory pathways, as well as high interconnectivity within the central autonomic network and the vestibular network. Interestingly, our results showed evidence of vestibulo-autonomic interactions in line with previous work. Comparison of 7 Tesla and 3 Tesla findings showed high translatability of results to conventional settings for brainstem-cortical connectivity and good yet weaker translatability for brainstem-brainstem connectivity. The brainstem functional connectome might bring new insight in the understanding of autonomic, limbic, nociceptive and sensory function in health and disease.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number118925
StatePublished - Apr 15 2022


  • 7 Tesla
  • Brainstem
  • Central autonomic network
  • Human functional connectome
  • Vestibular network

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Neurology
  • Cognitive Neuroscience


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