Ultrasound Produces Extensive Brain Activation via a Cochlear Pathway

Hongsun Guo, Mark Hamilton, Sarah J. Offutt, Cory D. Gloeckner, Tianqi Li, Yohan Kim, Wynn Legon, Jamu K. Alford, Hubert H. Lim

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

58 Scopus citations


Ultrasound (US) can noninvasively activate intact brain circuits, making it a promising neuromodulation technique. However, little is known about the underlying mechanism. Here, we apply transcranial US and perform brain mapping studies in guinea pigs using extracellular electrophysiology. We find that US elicits extensive activation across cortical and subcortical brain regions. However, transection of the auditory nerves or removal of cochlear fluids eliminates the US-induced activity, revealing an indirect auditory mechanism for US neural activation. Our findings indicate that US activates the ascending auditory system through a cochlear pathway, which can activate other non-auditory regions through cross-modal projections. This cochlear pathway mechanism challenges the idea that US can directly activate neurons in the intact brain, suggesting that future US stimulation studies will need to control for this effect to reach reliable conclusions. Guo et al. apply ultrasound to the brain and record across cortical and subcortical regions in guinea pigs, revealing that ultrasound-induced activation occurs through a cochlear pathway. These findings challenge the idea that ultrasound directly activates neurons in the brain.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1020-1030.e4
Issue number5
StatePublished - Jun 6 2018

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
We would like to thank Daniel Zachs and Pooja Mehta for their help with the experimental setup and data interpretation and Alyona Haritonova for contributions with the ultrasound setup and technical discussions. We would also like to thank Tomokazu Sato, Mikhail Shapiro, and Doris Tsao for their helpful discussions and feedback on the manuscript and results. This research was supported by SONIC Lab Discretionary Funds , NSF IGERT DGE-1069104 , and a MnDRIVE Brain Conditions Innovations Grant led by Hubert Lim, Jamu Alford, and Wynn Legon. This research was also supported by a MnDRIVE Fellowship in Neuromodulation.


  • auditory
  • deep brain stimulation
  • hearing
  • hearing aid
  • neuromodulation
  • neurostimulation
  • noninvasive
  • somatosensory
  • transcranial
  • ultrasound

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