Magnetoencephalography-theory, instrumentation, and applications to noninvasive studies of the working human brain
Magnetoencephalography (MEG) is a noninvasive technique for investigating neuronal activity in the living human brain. The time resolution of the method is better than 1 ms and the spatial discrimination is, under favorable circumstances, 2-3 mm for sources in the cerebral cortex. In MEG studies, the weak 10 fT-1 pT magnetic fields produced by electric currents flowing in neurons are measured with multichannel SQUID (superconducting quantum interference device) gradiometers. The sites in the cerebral cortex that are activated by a stimulus can be found from the detected magnetic-field distribution, provided that appropriate assumptions about the source render the solution of the inverse problem unique. Many interesting properties of the working human brain can be studied, including spontaneous activity and signal processing following external stimuli. For clinical purposes, determination of the locations of epileptic foci is of interest. The authors begin with a general introduction and a short discussion of the neural basis of MEG. The mathematical theory of the method is then explained in detail, followed by a thorough description of MEG instrumentation, data analysis, and practical construction of multi-SQUID devices. Finally, several MEG experiments performed in the authors' laboratory are described, covering studies of evoked responses and of spontaneous activity in both healthy and diseased brains. Many MEG studies by other groups are discussed briefly as well.