Mental maze solving: Directional fMRI tuning and population coding in the superior parietal lobule

Pavlos Gourtzelidis, Haris Tzagarakis, Scott M. Lewis, David A. Crowe, Edward J Auerbach, Trenton A. Jerde, Kamil Ugurbil, Apostolos P Georgopoulos

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22 Scopus citations


The superior parietal lobule (SPL) of six human subjects was imaged at 4 T during mental traversing of a directed maze path. Here we demonstrate the orderly involvement of the SPL in this function, as follows. Forty-two percent of the voxels were tuned with respect to the direction of the maze path. This suggests a coherent tuning of local neuronal populations contributing to the change of the single-voxel BOLD signal. Preferred directions ranged throughout the directional continuum of 360°. Voxels with similar preferred directions tended to cluster together: on average there were seven same-direction clusters per slice, with an average cluster membership of five voxels/cluster and an average nearest-neighbor same-direction intercluster distance of 13.1 mm. On the other hand, the average nearest-neighbor intercluster distance between a given direction and all other directions was 3.1 mm. This suggests a patchy arrangement such that patches of directionally tuned voxels, containing voxels with different preferred directions, alternate with patches of non-tuned voxels. Finally, the population vector predicted accurately the direction of the maze path (with an error of 12.7°), and provided good estimates (with an error of 29°) when calculated within parts of the SPL. Altogether, these findings document a new, orderly functional organization of the SPL with respect to mental tracing.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)273-282
Number of pages10
JournalExperimental Brain Research
Issue number3
StatePublished - Aug 2005

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
Acknowledgements This work was supported by United States Public Health Service grant NS32919, NIH RR08079, the University of Minnesota Graduate School (TAJ), the MIND Institute, the KECK Foundation, the United States Department of Veterans Affairs, and the American Legion Chair in Brain Sciences. P.G. was supported by the Medical Corps Directorate of the Hellenic Army General Staff.


  • Directional tuning
  • Mental tracing
  • Spatial cognition
  • Superior parietal lobule
  • fMRI


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