Spasmodic dysphonia (SD) is characterized by an involuntary laryngeal muscle spasm during vocalization. Previous studies measured brain activation during voice production and suggested that SD arises from abnormal sensorimotor integration involving the sensorimotor cortex. However, it remains unclear whether this abnormal sensorimotor activation merely reflects neural activation produced by abnormal vocalization. To identify the specific neural correlates of SD, we used a sound discrimination task without overt vocalization to compare neural activation between 11 patients with SD and healthy participants. Participants underwent functional MRI during a two-alternative judgment task for auditory stimuli, which could be modal or falsetto voice. Since vocalization in falsetto is intact in SD, we predicted that neural activation during speech perception would differ between the two groups only for modal voice and not for falsetto voice. Group-by-stimulus interaction was observed in the left sensorimotor cortex and thalamus, suggesting that voice perception activates different neural systems between the two groups. Moreover, the sensorimotor signals positively correlated with disease severity of SD, and classified the two groups with 73% accuracy in linear discriminant analysis. Thus, the sensorimotor cortex and thalamus play a central role in SD pathophysiology and sensorimotor signals can be a new biomarker for SD diagnosis.
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