Structural network underlying visuospatial imagery in humans

Cortex. 2014 Jul:56:85-98. doi: 10.1016/j.cortex.2013.02.004. Epub 2013 Feb 17.


Introduction: Several neuroimaging studies have shown that visuospatial imagery is associated with a multitude of activation nodes spanning occipital, parietal, temporal and frontal brain areas. However, the anatomical connectivity profile linking these areas is not well understood. Specifically, it is unknown whether cortical areas activated during visuospatial imagery are directly connected to one another, or whether few act as hubs which facilitate indirect connections between distant sites. Addressing this is important since mental imagery tasks are commonly used in clinical settings to assess complex cognitive functions such as spatial orientation.

Methods: We recorded functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) data while participants (N = 18) performed a visuospatial imagery task. In the same subjects, we acquired diffusion MRI (dMRI) and used state-of-the-art tractography robust to fiber crossings to reconstruct the white matter tracts linking the fMRI activation sites. For each pair of these sites, we then computed the fraction of subjects showing a connection between them.

Results: Robust fMRI activation was observed in cortical areas spanning the dorsal (extrastriate, parietal and prefrontal areas) and ventral (temporal and lingual areas) pathways, as well as moderate deactivation in striate visual cortex. In over 80% of subjects, striate cortex showed anatomical connectivity with extrastriate (medial occipital) and lingual (posterior cingulate cortex-PCC) sites with the latter showing divergent connections to ventral (parahippocampus) and dorsal (BA7) activation areas.

Conclusion: Our results demonstrate that posterior cingulate cortex is not only activated by visuospatial imagery, but also serves as an anatomical hub linking activity in occipital, parietal and temporal areas. This finding adds to the growing body of evidence pointing to PCC as a connector hub which may facilitate integration across widespread cortical areas.

Keywords: Tractography; V1 deactivation; Visuospatial imagery; fMRI.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Female
  • Functional Neuroimaging
  • Humans
  • Image Processing, Computer-Assisted
  • Imagination / physiology*
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging
  • Male
  • Nerve Net / physiology*
  • Space Perception / physiology*
  • Visual Cortex / physiology*
  • Visual Perception / physiology*
  • Young Adult