Conception and implementation of an MRI-compatible device to elicit the bulbocavernosus reflex for an open spinal cord study

Kristopher A. Hoffman, Charles Mazeaud, Betsy H. Salazar, Laura N. Thompson, Argyrios Stampas, Christof Karmonik, Rose Khavari

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Objective: Functional MRI (fMRI) can be employed to assess neuronal activity in the central nervous system. However, investigating the spinal cord using fMRI poses several technical difficulties. Enhancing the fMRI signal intensity in the spinal cord can improve the visualization and analysis of different neural pathways, particularly those involved in bladder function. The bulbocavernosus reflex (BCR) is an excellent method for evaluating the integrity of the sacral spinal cord. Instead of stimulating the glans penis or clitoris, the BCR can be simulated comfortably by tapping the suprapubic region. In this study, we explain the necessity and development of a device to elicit the simulated BCR (sBCR) via suprapubic tapping while conducting an fMRI scan. Methods: The device was successfully tested on a group of 20 healthy individuals. Two stimulation task block protocols were administered (empty vs. full bladder). Each block consisted of 40 s of suprapubic tapping followed by 40 s of rest, and the entire sequence was repeated four times. Results: Our device can reliably and consistently elicit sBCR noninvasively as demonstrated by electromyographic recording of pelvic muscles and anal winking. Participants did note mild to moderate discomfort and urge to void during the full bladder task. Conclusion: Our device demonstrates an efficacious approach to elicit sBCR within an MRI bore to assess sacral spinal cord functional activity without generating any significant motion artifacts. Significance: This device can explore the mechanisms and processes controlling urinary, digestive, or sexual function within this region in humans.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1230-1237
Number of pages8
JournalNeurourology and Urodynamics
Issue number5
StatePublished - Jun 2024


  • bladder function
  • bulbocavernosus reflex
  • central nervous system
  • device
  • functional magnetic resonance imaging
  • lumbosacral spinal cord
  • neurourology

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Clinical Neurology
  • Urology


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