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Brain Res Brain Res Rev. 1998 May;26(2-3):87-105.

Structural divisions and functional fields in the human cerebral cortex.

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Division of Human Brain Research, Department of Neuroscience, Doktorsringen 12, The Karolinska Institute, S-171 77 Stockholm, Sweden.


The question of what is a cortical area needs a thorough definition of borders both in the microstructural and the functional domains. Microstructural parcellation of the human cerebral cortex should be made on multiple criteria based on quantitative measurements of microstructural variables, such as neuron densities, neurotransmitter receptor densities, enzyme densities, etc. Because of the inter-individual variations of extent and topography of microstructurally defined areas, the final microstructurally defined areas appear as population maps. In the functional domain, columns, patches and blobs signifying synaptically active parts of the cortex appear as cortical functional fields. These fields are the largest functional entities of the cerebral cortex according to the cortical field hypothesis. In its strong version, the cortical field hypothesis postulates that all neurons and synapses within the fields perform a co-operative computation. A number of such fields together provide the functional contribution of the cerebral cortex. The functional parcellation of the human cerebral cortex must be based on field population maps, which after intersection analysis appear as functional domains. The major structural-functional hypothesis to be examined is whether these functional domains are equi-territorial to the microstructurally defined meta-maps. The cortical hypothesis predicts that, if two brain tasks make use of one or several identical or largely overlapping fields, they cannot be performed simultaneously without errors or increases in latency. Evidence for such interference is presented. This evidence represents a restriction in the parallel processing of the human brain. In the posterior part of the brain not only visual cortical areas may qualify for parallel processing, but also the somatosensory cortices appear to have separate functional streams for the detection of microgeometry and macrogeometry.

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