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Fetal Response to a Maternal Internal Auditory Stimulus

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Journal of Magnetic Resonance Imaging

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Background: Functional MRI (fMRI) is a noninvasive method to investigate the neural correlates of brain development. Insight into the rapidly developing brain in utero is limited, and fetal fMRI can be used to gain a greater understanding of the developmental process. Fetal brain fMRI is typically limited to resting-state fMRI due to the difficulty to instruct or provide a stimulus to the fetus. Previous studies have employed auditory task fMRI with an external sound stimulus directly on the abdomen of the mother; however, this practice has since been deemed unsafe for the developing fetus. Purpose: To investigate a reliable and safe paradigm to study the development of fetal brain networks, we postulated that an internal task, such as the mother's singing, as the auditory stimulus would result in activation in the fetal primary auditory cortex. Study type: Cohort. Population: Pregnant women with singleton pregnancies (n = 9; 33–38 weeks gestational age). Field Strength/Sequence: All subjects underwent two task-based block design blood oxygen level-dependent (BOLD) at 1.5T or 3T. Assessment: Each volume was assessed for fetal motion and manually reoriented and realigned to correct for fetal motion. Once the motion was corrected, a gestational age-matched parcellated atlas with regions of interest overlaid onto the activation map was used to determine which regions in the brain had activation during task phases. Statistical Tests: First Level Analysis. MRI data were analyzed using SPM 12 as a task fMRI. Results: Eight subjects had activation on the right Heschl's gyrus; six fetuses demonstrated activation on the left when exposed to the internal acoustic stimulus. Additionally, activation was found on the right and left middle cingulate cortex (MCC) and the left putamen. Data Conclusion: Maternal singing can be used as an internal stimulus to activate the auditory network and Heschl's gyrus during fetal fMRI. Level of Evidence 2. Technical Efficacy Stage 2. J. Magn. Reson. Imaging 2020;52:139–145.