Parsing a sequence of brain activations at psychological times using fMRI

Neuroimage. 2007 Apr 1;35(2):655-68. doi: 10.1016/j.neuroimage.2006.05.064. Epub 2007 Feb 1.


Identifying the sequence of computations which constitute a cognitive task is a fundamental problem in neuroscience. Here we show, using functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI), that we can parse, at the time scale of about 100 ms, the different stages of brain activations which compose a complex sequential task. To identify timing information from the slow blood oxygen level-dependent (BOLD) signal response, we use a simple analytic method, based on periodic stimulation and an analysis of covariation of the spectral parameters (phase and power spectrum at the stimulation frequency) with the different experimental conditions. We implement this strategy in a sequential task, where the onset and duration of different stages are under experimental control. We are able to detect changes in onset latency and in the duration of the response, in an invariant fashion across different brain regions, and reconstruct the stream of activations consistent with five distinct stages of processing of the task. Sensory and motor clusters activate in the expected order and for the expected duration. The timing of sensory activations is more precise than the timing of motor activation. We also parse in time the reading-verbal network: visual extrastriate and phonological access regions (supramarginal gyrus) activate at the time of word presentation, while the inferior frontal gyrus, the anterior cingulate and the supplementary motor area are activated during the rehearsal period.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Brain / physiology*
  • Cognition / physiology*
  • Humans
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging*
  • Task Performance and Analysis
  • Time Factors