Spinal fMRI demonstrates segmental organisation of functionally connected networks in the cervical spinal cord: A test–retest reliability study

Olivia S. Kowalczyk*, Sonia Medina, Dimitra Tsivaka, Stephen B. McMahon, Steven C. R. Williams, Jonathan C. W. Brooks, David J. Lythgoe, Matthew A. Howard

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Resting functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) studies have identified intrinsic spinal cord activity, which forms organised motor (ventral) and sensory (dorsal) resting-state networks. However, to facilitate the use of spinal fMRI in, for example, clinical studies, it is crucial to first assess the reliability of the method, particularly given the unique anatomical, physiological, and methodological challenges associated with acquiring the data. Here, we characterise functional connectivity relationships in the cervical cord and assess their between-session test–retest reliability in 23 young healthy volunteers. Resting-state networks were estimated in two ways (1) by estimating seed-to-voxel connectivity maps and (2) by calculating seed-to-seed correlations. Seed regions corresponded to the four grey matter horns (ventral/dorsal and left/right) of C5–C8 segmental levels. Test–retest reliability was assessed using the intraclass correlation coefficient. Spatial overlap of clusters derived from seed-to-voxel analysis between sessions was examined using Dice coefficients. Following seed-to-voxel analysis, we observed distinct unilateral dorsal and ventral organisation of cervical spinal resting-state networks that was largely confined in the rostro–caudal extent to each spinal segmental level, with more sparse connections observed between segments. Additionally, strongest correlations were observed between within-segment ipsilateral dorsal–ventral connections, followed by within-segment dorso–dorsal and ventro–ventral connections. Test–retest reliability of these networks was mixed. Reliability was poor when assessed on a voxelwise level, with more promising indications of reliability when examining the average signal within clusters. Reliability of correlation strength between seeds was highly variable, with the highest reliability achieved in ipsilateral dorsal–ventral and dorso-dorsal/ventro–ventral connectivity. However, the spatial overlap of networks between sessions was excellent. We demonstrate that while test–retest reliability of cervical spinal resting-state networks is mixed, their spatial extent is similar across sessions, suggesting that these networks are characterised by a consistent spatial representation over time.

Original languageEnglish
Article numbere26600
JournalHuman Brain Mapping
Issue number2
Early online date31 Jan 2024
Publication statusPublished - 1 Feb 2024


  • reliability
  • resting-state fMRI
  • spinal fMRI
  • test–retest


Dive into the research topics of 'Spinal fMRI demonstrates segmental organisation of functionally connected networks in the cervical spinal cord: A test–retest reliability study'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this