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Current functional MRI (fMRI) approaches assess underlying neuronal activity through monitoring the related local variations in cerebral blood oxygenation, blood volume and blood flow. This vascular response is likely to vary across brain regions and across individuals, depending on the composition of the local vascular bed and on the vascular capacity to dilate. The most widely used technique uses the blood oxygen level dependent (BOLD) fMRI signal, which arises from a complex combination of all of these factors. The model of handedness provides a case where one brain region (dominant motor cortex) is known to have a stronger BOLD response over another (non-dominant motor cortex) during hand motor task performance. We predict that this is accompanied by a higher vascular reactivity in the dominant motor cortex, when compared with the non-dominant motor cortex. Precise measurement of end-tidal CO2 and a novel sinusoidal CO2 respiratory challenge were combined with the high sensitivity and finer spatial resolution available for fMRI at 7 T to measure BOLD cerebrovascular reactivity (CVR) in eight healthy male participants. BOLD CVR was compared between the left (dominant) and right (non-dominant) primary motor cortices of right-handed adults. Hemispheric asymmetry in vascular reactivity was predicted and observed in the primary motor cortex (left CVR = 0.60 ± 0.15%/mm Hg; right CVR = 0.47 ± 0.08%/mm Hg; left CVR > right CVR, P = 0.04), the first reported evidence of such a vascular difference. These findings demonstrate a cerebral vascular asymmetry between the left and right primary motor cortex. The origin of this asymmetry largely arises from the contribution of large draining veins. This work has implications for future motor laterality studies that use BOLD, and it is also suggestive of a vascular plasticity in the human primary motor cortex.

Original publication




Journal article


NMR Biomed

Publication Date





538 - 545


BOLD, MRI, cerebrovascular reactivity, hypercapnia, primary motor cortex, Adult, Blood Flow Velocity, Cerebrovascular Circulation, Evoked Potentials, Motor, Functional Laterality, Humans, Magnetic Resonance Imaging, Male, Middle Aged, Motor Cortex, Movement, Oxygen Consumption, Reproducibility of Results, Sensitivity and Specificity, Young Adult