Regional variation in neurovascular coupling and why we still lack a Rosetta Stone: BOLD-neural coupling

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8 Scopus citations


Functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) is the dominant tool in cognitive neuroscience although its relation to underlying neural activity, particularly in the human brain, remains largely unknown. A major research goal, therefore, has been to uncover a 'Rosetta Stone' providing direct translation between the blood oxygen level-dependent (BOLD) signal, the local field potential and single-neuron activity. Here, I evaluate the proposal that BOLD signal changes equate to changes in gamma-band activity, which in turn may partially relate to the spiking activity of neurons. While there is some support for this idea in sensory cortices, findings in deeper brain structures like the hippocampus instead suggest both regional and frequency-wise differences. Relatedly, I consider four important factors in linking fMRI to neural activity: Interpretation of correlations between these signals, regional variability in local vasculature, distributed neural coding schemes and varying fMRI signal quality. Novel analytic fMRI techniques, such as multivariate pattern analysis (MVPA), employ the distributed patterns of voxels across a brain region to make inferences about information content rather than whether a small number of voxels go up or down relative to baseline in response to a stimulus. Although unlikely to provide a Rosetta Stone, MVPA, therefore, may represent one possible means forward for better linking BOLD signal changes to the information coded by underlying neural activity. This article is part of the theme issue 'Key relationships between non-invasive functional neuroimaging and the underlying neuronal activity'.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number20190634
JournalPhilosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences
Issue number1815
StatePublished - Jan 4 2021


  • BOLD
  • fMRI
  • hippocampus
  • neural activity
  • vasculature

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Biochemistry, Genetics and Molecular Biology(all)
  • Agricultural and Biological Sciences(all)


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