Functional imaging of memory processes in humans: positron emission tomography and functional magnetic resonance imaging

Methods. 2008 Apr;44(4):315-28. doi: 10.1016/j.ymeth.2007.02.017.


Human memory is not a unitary function; it consists of multiple memory systems, with different characteristics and specialisations that are implemented in the brain. The cognitive neuroscience of human memory tries to comprehend how we encode, store, and retrieve memory items within and across those systems. The emergence of functional neuroimaging techniques offered the unprecedented opportunity to directly observe the brain regions engaged in memory functions. Brain imaging techniques can roughly be divided into those measuring the electric or magnetic fields generated by neuronal activity (EEG, magnetencephalography [MEG]) and those measuring the haemodynamic or metabolic sequelae of neuronal activity (positron emission tomography [PET], functional magnetic resonance imaging [fMRI]). Out of these techniques, the following two will be discussed in detail: fMRI and PET. Although functional neuroimaging is able to acquire images of the brain engaged in consolidating or retrieving memories, these processes are not clearly visible in the data. Statistical techniques are needed to reduce the complexity of the data and to extract the processes of interest. This article outlines the experimental and analytical procedures of neuroimaging studies with PET and fMRI. We will use a PET-study on episodic memory in human volunteers to illustrate design, analysis, and interpretation of functional imaging studies on memory.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Humans
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging / methods*
  • Male
  • Memory Disorders / diagnosis*
  • Memory Disorders / diagnostic imaging
  • Memory* / classification
  • Memory* / physiology
  • Positron-Emission Tomography / methods*