The cerebral representation of space: insights from functional imaging data

Trends Cogn Sci. 1997 May;1(2):62-8. doi: 10.1016/S1364-6613(97)01011-5.


Functional imaging techniques, such as positron emission tomography and functional magnetic resonance imaging, present a unique opportunity to examine, in humans, the cerebral representation of space in vivo. Space is ubiquitous and not a unitary phenomenon, and the brain uses visual, vestibular and proprioceptive inputs to produce multiple representations of space subserving spatial cognition, ranging from gaze control to remembering multiple complex large-scale environments. Functional imaging studies have shown the importance of the parietal cortex in perceptual, motor, attention and working memory aspects of body-centred human spatial cognition. Functional imaging has also revealed pathways in humans homologous to those found in monkeys for the separate processing of spatial location and object identity. There are further suggestions of similar differentiation in working memory. The importance of the medial temporal region in the recall of spatial location has been confirmed also and novel virtual reality paradigms are now providing insights into the cerebral representation of spatially-extended large-scale environments. We still have much to learn about the cerebral representation of space in the human brain and functional brain imaging, in concert with patient studies and animal models, will allow us to continue investigating.