This letter presents a noninvasive imaging technique that captures the exact timing and locations of cortical activity sequences that are specific to a cognitive process. These precise spatiotemporal sequences can be detected in the human brain as specific time-position pattern associated with a cognitive task. They are consistent with direct measurements of population activity recorded in nonhuman primates, thus suggesting that specific time-position patterns associated with a cognitive task can be identified.

This imaging technique is based on estimating the amplitude of cortical current dipoles from MEG recordings. Although the spatial resolution of these estimations is poor (approximately 2 cm), the temporal resolution is high (milliseconds). We show that within these cortical current dipoles, time points of cortical activation can be identified as brief amplitude undulations and that sequences of these transients repeat with millisecond accuracy, hence making it possible to treat the timing of these transients as point processes.

We illustrate the feasibility of finding spatiotemporal templates specific to the cognitive processes associated with following the rhythm of drumbeats that involve the activation at multiple cortical and cerebellar loci. These templates evolve at an accuracy of a few milliseconds. This approach can thus pave the way for new perspectives on the relationships between brain dynamics and cognition.

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