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The brain in time: insights from neuromagnetic recordings


Current address: INSERM-CEA Cognitive Neuroimaging Unit, NeuroSpin Center, Bât 145, 91191 Gif-sur-Yvette, France.

Address for correspondence: Prof. Riitta Hari, Brain Research Unit, Low Temperature Laboratory, Aalto University School of Science and Technology, P.O. Box 15100, FI-00076 AALTO, Espoo, Finland.


The millisecond time resolution of magnetoencephalography (MEG) is instrumental for investigating the brain basis of sensory processing, motor planning, cognition, and social interaction. We review the basic principles, recent progress, and future potential of MEG in noninvasive tracking of human brain activity. Cortical activation sequences from tens to hundreds of milliseconds can be followed during, e.g., perception, motor action, imitation, and language processing by recording both spontaneous and evoked brain signals. Moreover, tagging of sensory input can be used to reveal neuronal mechanisms of binaural interaction and perception of ambiguous images. The results support the emerging ideas of multiple, hierarchically organized temporal scales in human brain function. Instrumentation and data analysis methods are rapidly progressing, enabling attempts to decode the four-dimensional spatiotemporal signal patterns to reveal correlates of behavior and mental contents.