Functional magnetic resonance imaging of human brain activity in a verbal fluency task

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Functional MRI (fMRI) holds the promise of non-invasive mapping of human brain function in both health and disease. Yet its sensitivity and reliability for mapping higher cognitive function are still being determined. Using verbal fluency as a task, the objective was to ascertain the consistency of fMRI on a conventional scanner for determining the anatomic substrate of language between subjects and between sexes. Comparison was made with previous PET studies.


Using a 1.5 Tesla magnet and an echoplanar pulse sequence, whole brain fMRI was obtained from 12 normal right handed subjects (6 males and 6 females) as they performed a verbal fluency task.


A broadly consistent pattern of response was seen across subjects. Areas showing activation changes included the left prefrontal cortex and right cerebellum, in agreement with previous PET15 O-H2 O studies. In addition, significantly decreased responses were seen in the posterior cingulate and over an extensive area of mesial and dorsolateral parietal and superior temporal cortices. The male cohort showed a slight asymmetry of parietal deactivation, with more involvement on the right, whereas the female cohort showed a small region of activation in the right orbitofrontal cortex. There were individual task related regional changes in all 12 subjects with the area showing the most significant change being the left prefrontal cortex in all cases.


Magnetic resonance scanners of conventional field strength can provide functional brain mapping data with a sensitivity at least that of PET. Activation was seen in left prefrontal and right cerebellar regions, as with PET. However, decremental responses were seen over a much larger area of the posterior cortex than had been anticipated by prior studies. The ability to see a response in each subject individually suggests that fMRI may be useful in the preinterventional mapping of pathological states, and offers a non-invasive alternative to the Wada test for assessment of hemispheric dominance. There were no gross differences in the pattern of activation between male and female subjects.

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