Functional and structural mapping of human cerebral cortex: Solutions are in the surfaces

David C. Van Essen, Heather A. Drury, Sarang Joshi, Michael I. Miller

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

297 Scopus citations


The human cerebral cortex is notorious for the depth and irregularity of its convolutions and for its variability from one individual to the next. These complexities of cortical geography have been a chronic impediment to studies of functional specialization in the cortex. In this report, we discuss ways to compensate for the convolutions by using a combination of strategies whose common denominator involves explicit reconstructions of the cortical surface. Surface-based visualization involves reconstructing cortical surfaces and displaying them, along with associated experimental data, in various complementary formats (including three-dimensional native configurations, two-dimensional slices, extensively smoothed surfaces, ellipsoidal representations, and cortical flat maps). Generating these representations for the cortex of the Visible Man leads to a surface-based atlas that has important advantages over conventional stereotaxic atlases as a substrate for displaying and analyzing large amounts of experimental data. We illustrate this by showing the relationship between functionally specialized regions and topographically organized areas in human visual cortex. Surface-based warping allows data to be mapped from individual hemispheres to a surface-based atlas while respecting surface topology, improving registration of identifiable landmarks, and minimizing unwanted distortions. Surface-based warping also can aid in comparisons between species, which we illustrate by warping a macaque flat map to match the shape of a human flat map. Collectively, these approaches will allow more refined analyses of commonalities as well as individual differences in the functional organization of primate cerebral cortex.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)788-795
Number of pages8
JournalProceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America
Issue number3
StatePublished - Feb 3 1998


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