The search for the number form area: A functional neuroimaging meta-analysis

Neurosci Biobehav Rev. 2017 Jul:78:145-160. doi: 10.1016/j.neubiorev.2017.04.027. Epub 2017 Apr 30.


Recent studies report a putative "number form area" (NFA) in the inferior temporal gyrus (ITG) suggested to be specialized for Arabic numeral processing. However, a number of earlier studies report no such NFA. The reasons for such discrepancies across studies are unclear. To examine evidence for a convergent NFA across studies, we conducted two activation likelihood estimation meta-analyses on 31 and a subset of 20 neuroimaging studies that have contrasted digits with other meaningful symbols. Results suggest the potential existence of an NFA in the right ITG, in addition to a 'symbolic number processing network' comprising bilateral parietal regions, and right-lateralized superior and inferior frontal regions. Critically, convergent localization for the NFA was only evident when contrasts were appropriately controlled for task demands, and does not appear to depend on employing methods designed to overcome fMRI signal dropout in the ITG. Importantly, only five studies had foci within the identified ITG NFA cluster boundary, indicating that more empirical evidence is necessary to determine the true functional specialization and regional specificity of the putative NFA.

Keywords: Activation likelihood estimation; Frontal cortex; Inferior temporal gyrus; Meta-analysis; Number form; Parietal cortex; Symbolic number.

Publication types

  • Meta-Analysis
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Brain
  • Brain Mapping
  • Functional Neuroimaging*
  • Humans
  • Likelihood Functions
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging