Brain Imaging: Localisation of Brain Functions


Neuroimaging provides a method to locate areas of the brain active when organisms perceive or respond to sensory events or carry out a wide variety of tasks. The methods have made it possible to examine where in the brain cognitive and emotional systems are located, thus providing new approaches to understanding normal and pathological human information processing. Positron emission tomography accomplishes this by detecting concentrations of radioactive oxygen, glucose, or neurotransmitter molecules in the brain. High‐density multichannel electrical activity recorded from the scalp electroencephalogram supplements important information about the time course of these neurophysiological events. Functional magnetic resonance imaging allows to measure the blood oxygenation level in the brain during carrying out a wide variety of tasks. Recent methodological advances are moving beyond the localisation of task‐related activations to functional connectivity of remote brain areas and detection of patterns of remote brain areas in a variety of states and tasks.

Key Concepts:

  • Neuroimaging provides methods to locate areas of the human brain that are active during certain tasks or behaviours.

  • PET and functional MRI allow to map functional anatomy of the human brain noninvasively in healthy volunteers.

  • Mapping electrical activity of the human brain can supply important additional information about the time course of these local brain activations in various tasks or behaviours.

  • Later approaches to functional mapping of the human brain function by fMRI have focussed on the connectivity of remote brain areas.

  • Newest approaches to the functional mapping of the human brain focus on multiple pattern recognition algorithms to try to characterise each task or behavioural act by a pattern or set of multiple remote brain areas active at the moment.

Keywords: neuroimaging; human brain; cognitive functions; functional magnetic resonance imaging; positron emission tomography

Figure 1.

Brain networks involved in understanding the meaning of words. Left side: Upper row shows PET images in three slices obtained from subtraction of brain activity during reading words from the brain activity during generating a use for the same words. From left to right, the three slices show activations in the anterior cingulate, left prefrontal and left temporoparietal areas. Second row shows maps of electrical activity recorded from multichannel event‐related brain potentials in the same use generation‐minus‐reading subtraction, providing a fine time course of these activations. From left to right, the three different times of the surface map show the involvement of anterior frontal midline at approximately 200 ms, left prefrontal location at approximately 250 ms and left temporoparietal region at approximately 650 ms after the stimulus onset. The third row shows the results of dipole localisation of the sources of scalp‐recorded electrical fields within the three‐dimensional brain space for the same generation‐minus‐reading condition. From left to right, the dipole sources are in the anterior cingulate at approximately 200 ms, in the left prefrontal cortex at approximately 250 ms, and in the left temporoparietal cortex at approximately 650 ms (Abdullaev and Posner, ). The lower row shows the fMRI images in three slices obtained from statistical comparison of brain activity during the use generation task to the brain activity during reading the same words. From left to right, the three slices show activations in the same regions of the anterior cingulate, left prefrontal cortex and the left temporoparietal cortex (Abdullaev et al., ). Functional MRI has a greater spatial resolution and shows some smaller additional activations, including in some subcortical areas. All images were obtained from averaging across many healthy volunteer human subjects. Right side: Upper graphs represent peristimulus time histograms of firing rate of neurons in the head of the caudate nucleus recorded from depth electrodes in a patient with Parkinson's disease in a similar semantic task. Horizontal axis represents time; each dot under the graphs represents 100 ms. Vertical axis shows changes of the neuronal firing rate from average prestimulus level, statistically significant changes of firing rate are coloured in black. First vertical line shows the onset of stimulus (single words presented visually), the second vertical line shows the onset of a cue allowing the subject to respond. The lower map is drawn from a stereotaxic atlas, letters a, b, c and d show the localisation of recording electrodes in the head of the caudate nucleus in three patients (Abdullaev et al., ).



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Abdullaev, Yalchin(May 2014) Brain Imaging: Localisation of Brain Functions. In: eLS. John Wiley & Sons Ltd, Chichester. [doi: 10.1002/9780470015902.a0000095.pub3]