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Human Brain Function.
  1. SIMON BONIFACE

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    Human Brain Function. Byr s j frackowiak, k j friston, c d frith, r j dolan, and j c mazziotta. (Pp 528). Published by Harcourt Brace and Co, San Diego, California, 1997. ISBN 0-12-2648404.

    This book is a pleasure to read, either as a reference book or as a progressive journey through a decade of development in this field. The preface makes the point that it is time to take stock and to reflect on different approaches, including the philosophy of localisation and the contrasting issues of functional integration. It also reiterates the principle that these are relatively new methods and that they have not created a new science. Instead it is intended that much of the work has been selected on the principal of testing new or traditional hypotheses in human subjects to provide a coherent view, rather than an encyclopaedic review.

    It is divided into three parts, concentrating mainly on PET. The first is probably the most useful and covers principles and methodology, dealing with the conceptual basis for the remainder of the book. This includes a description of some of the important mathematics: in an initial overview, the principles of functional organisation and the implications for imaging are summarised and then followed by a description of statistical parametric mapping and other components of functional imaging data analysis. This is extended in the chapters that follow in a way that reflects the development and application of these approaches over the past decade. Topics include the spatial transformation of images and the way that this can be used to reduce differences and facilitate comparisons, to characterise differences in topography, or to restore and segment images. The additional statistical challenges involved in fMRI are touched on and a guide is offered for the selection of different tests, sensitivity and specificity, choice of parameters, etc. Methods for describing distributed functional systems are suggested, with approaches to functional integration. This first part of the book is concluded with a useful taxonomy for study design which returns to the importance of interactions as well as focal activations.

    Part two deals with studies that have been completed by authors and their collaborators and by other international groups. It incorporates a systems approach modelled around visual, somatosensory, motor, and memory systems, functional recovery, reading, and neuromodulation. Part three of the book looks ahead and includes a discussion of integrating new developments in the applications of maps and atlases, the contribution of fMRI, and then proposes a philosophical framework for the future.

    The large scale nature of research in this domain has sometimes created an impression in those outside the field that it is dominated by technology or phrenology rather than a philosophy of considering functional neurobiological questions. This book makes a strong argument for the second, by describing important complexities in experimental design and how their selective use has been very productive over the past decade and provided a basis for the next. I recommend it to all those with a strong interest in this field.

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