Using human brain lesions to infer function: a relic from a past era in the fMRI age?

Nat Rev Neurosci. 2004 Oct;5(10):813-9. doi: 10.1038/nrn1521.


Recent technological advances, such as functional imaging techniques, allow neuroscientists to measure and localize brain activity in healthy individuals. These techniques avoid many of the limitations of the traditional method for inferring brain function, which relies on examining patients with brain lesions. This has fueled the zeitgeist that the classical lesion method is an inferior and perhaps obsolescent technique. However, although the lesion method has important weaknesses, we argue that it complements the newer activation methods (and their weaknesses). Furthermore, recent developments can address many of the criticisms of the lesion method. Patients with brain lesions provide a unique window into brain function, and this approach will fill an important niche in future research.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Brain / anatomy & histology
  • Brain / blood supply
  • Brain / physiology*
  • Brain Diseases / diagnosis
  • Brain Diseases / physiopathology*
  • Brain Mapping*
  • Functional Laterality
  • Humans
  • Image Processing, Computer-Assisted / methods
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging / methods*
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging / trends
  • Oxygen / blood


  • Oxygen