Experimental Brain Research

, Volume 236, Issue 2, pp 475–484 | Cite as

Timing of cortical activation during spontaneous swallowing

  • Erin Kamarunas
  • Rachel Mulheren
  • Katie Palmore
  • Christy Ludlow
Research Article


Saliva accumulation in the oropharynx generates an automatic pattern of swallowing in the brainstem in animals. Previous fMRI studies have found that spontaneous saliva and water swallows in humans evoked activation following swallow onset in both precentral motor and postcentral somatosensory cortical regions. Using event-related averaging of continuous functional near infrared spectroscopy (fNIRS), we examined cortical hemodynamic responses (HDR) from 5 s before to 35 s after spontaneous reflexive saliva swallow onset in the lateral postcentral somatosensory and precentral motor regions in both hemispheres in healthy volunteers. Three HDR changes from baseline were detected. First, the onset of HDR occurred 2 s before swallow onset in the left postcentral somatosensory area and 0.67 s before swallow onset in the right postcentral somatosensory area. Second, an early HDR peak amplitude occurred 3–4 s after swallow onset in all four regions. Z scores relative to baseline pre-swallow cortical activity levels averaged 20 and 22.7 s in the right and left somatosensory regions and 10 and 15.8 s in left and right motor areas, respectively. Finally, a late HDR peak occurring between 22 and 23 s after swallow onset in the somatosensory regions and 17–19 s in the motor areas likely resulted from esophageal peristalsis. Overall, cortical activation timing relative to swallow onsets showed activation began before the pharyngeal phase of swallowing in the somatosensory areas. This indicates that somatosensory triggering of swallowing occurs not only in the brainstem but also in the cortex for reflexive saliva swallowing in awake humans.


Functional near infrared spectroscopy Hemodynamic response Sensory triggers for swallowing Event-related averaging Cortical control swallowing 



The authors appreciate guidance received from Dr. Steven Garren in the Department of Mathematics and Statistics at James Madison University on data analysis procedures.

Author contribution

EK: Analyzed data, interpreted results of experiments, prepared figures, drafted manuscript, edited and revised manuscript, approved final version of manuscript. RM: Analyzed data, interpreted results of experiments, drafted manuscript, edited and revised manuscript, approved final version of manuscript. KP: Conception and design of research, performed experiments, edited and revised manuscript, approved final version of manuscript. CL: Conception and design of research, performed experiments, analyzed data, interpreted results of experiments, prepared figures, edited and revised manuscript, approved final version of manuscript.

Compliance with ethical standards

Conflict of interest

The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag GmbH Germany, part of Springer Nature 2017

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Communication Sciences and DisordersJames Madison UniversityHarrisonburgUSA

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