There are few in vivo noninvasive methods to study neuroplasticity in animal brains. Functional MRI (fMRI) has been developed for animal brain mapping, but few fMRI studies have analyzed functional alteration due to plasticity in animal models. One major limitation is that fMRI maps are characterized by statistical parametric mapping making the apparent boundary dependent on the statistical threshold used. Here, we developed a method to characterize the location of center-of-mass in fMRI maps that is shown not to be sensitive to statistical threshold. Utilizing centers-of-mass as anchor points to fit the spatial distribution of the BOLD response enabled quantitative group analysis of altered boundaries of functional somatosensory maps. This approach was used to study cortical reorganization in the rat primary somatosensory cortex (S1) after sensory deprivation to the barrel cortex by follicle ablation (F.A.). FMRI demonstrated an enlarged nose S1 representation in the 3D somatotopic functional maps. This result clearly demonstrates that fMRI enables the spatial mapping of functional changes that can characterize multiple regions of S1 cortex and still be sensitive to changes due to plasticity.
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