Quantitative imaging of tongue kinematics during infant feeding and adult swallowing reveals highly conserved patterns

Catherine W. Genna, Yiela Saperstein, Scott A. Siegel, Andrew F. Laine, David Elad*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Tongue motility is an essential physiological component of human feeding from infancy through adulthood. At present, it is a challenge to distinguish among the many pathologies of swallowing due to the absence of quantitative tools. We objectively quantified tongue kinematics from ultrasound imaging during infant and adult feeding. The functional advantage of this method is presented in several subjects with swallowing difficulties. We demonstrated for the first time the differences in tongue kinematics during breast- and bottle-feeding, showing the arrhythmic sucking pattern during bottle-feeding as compared with breastfeeding in the same infant with torticollis. The method clearly displayed the improvement of tongue motility after frenotomy in infants with either tongue-tie or restrictive labial frenulum. The analysis also revealed the absence of posterior tongue peristalsis required for safe swallowing in an infant with dysphagia. We also analyzed for the first time the tongue kinematics in an adult during water bolus swallowing demonstrating tongue peristaltic-like movements in both anterior and posterior segments. First, the anterior segment undulates to close off the oral cavity and the posterior segment held the bolus, and then, the posterior tongue propelled the bolus to the pharynx. The present methodology of quantitative imaging revealed highly conserved patterns of tongue kinematics that can differentiate between swallowing pathologies and evaluate treatment interventions. The method is novel and objective and has the potential to advance knowledge about the normal swallowing and management of feeding disorders.

Original languageEnglish
Article numbere14685
JournalPhysiological Reports
Issue number3
StatePublished - Feb 2021


  • Bolus swallowing
  • Bottle-feeding
  • Breastfeeding
  • Submental Ultrasound
  • Tongue motility


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