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Open Access Highly Accessed Open Badges Research article

Detecting functional magnetic resonance imaging activation in white matter: Interhemispheric transfer across the corpus callosum

Erin L Mazerolle12*, Ryan CN D'Arcy123* and Steven D Beyea134

Author Affiliations

1 Institute for Biodiagnostics (Atlantic), National Research Council, Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada

2 Department of Psychology and Neuroscience, Dalhousie University, Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada

3 Department of Radiology, Dalhousie University, Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada

4 Department of Physics, Dalhousie University, Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada

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BMC Neuroscience 2008, 9:84  doi:10.1186/1471-2202-9-84

Published: 12 September 2008



It is generally believed that activation in functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) is restricted to gray matter. Despite this, a number of studies have reported white matter activation, particularly when the corpus callosum is targeted using interhemispheric transfer tasks. These findings suggest that fMRI signals may not be neatly confined to gray matter tissue. In the current experiment, 4 T fMRI was employed to evaluate whether it is possible to detect white matter activation. We used an interhemispheric transfer task modelled after neurological studies of callosal disconnection. It was hypothesized that white matter activation could be detected using fMRI.


Both group and individual data were considered. At liberal statistical thresholds (p < 0.005, uncorrected), group level activation was detected in the isthmus of the corpus callosum. This region connects the superior parietal cortices, which have been implicated previously in interhemispheric transfer. At the individual level, five of the 24 subjects (21%) had activation clusters that were located primarily within the corpus callosum. Consistent with the group results, the clusters of all five subjects were located in posterior callosal regions. The signal time courses for these clusters were comparable to those observed for task related gray matter activation.


The findings support the idea that, despite the inherent challenges, fMRI activation can be detected in the corpus callosum at the individual level. Future work is needed to determine whether the detection of this activation can be improved by utilizing higher spatial resolution, optimizing acquisition parameters, and analyzing the data with tissue specific models of the hemodynamic response. The ability to detect white matter fMRI activation expands the scope of basic and clinical brain mapping research, and provides a new approach for understanding brain connectivity.