Functional magnetic resonance imaging as a tool for investigating human cortical motor function.

C. A. Porro, R. Corazza


Non-invasive functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) mapping techniques sensitive to the local changes of blood flow, blood volume, and blood oxygenation which accompany neuronal activation have been widely used over the last few years to investigate the functional organization of human cortical motor systems, and specifically of the primary motor cortex. Validation studies have demonstrated a good correspondence between quantitative and topographic aspects of data acquired by fMRI and positron emission tomography. The spatial and temporal resolution affordable by fMRI has allowed to achieve new important information on the distributed representation of hand movements in multiple functional modules, and on the intensity and spatial extent of neural activation in the contralateral and ipsilateral primary motor cortex in relation to parametric and nonparametric aspects of movement and to the degree of handedness. Neural populations with different functional characteristics have been identified in anatomically defined regions, and the temporal aspects of the activation during voluntary movement tracked in different components of the motor system. Finally, this technique has proved useful to deepen our understanding of the neural basis of motor imagery, demonstrating increased activity in the primary motor cortex during mental representation of sequential finger movements.

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