Common substrate for mental arithmetic and finger representation in the parietal cortex.

Institut de Recherche en Sciences Psychologiques, Université catholique de Louvain, Place Cardinal Mercier 10, 1348 Louvain-la-Neuve, Belgium.
NeuroImage (Impact Factor: 6.25). 05/2012; 62(3):1520-8. DOI: 10.1016/j.neuroimage.2012.05.047
Source: PubMed

ABSTRACT The history of mathematics provides several examples of the use of fingers to count or calculate. These observations converge with developmental data showing that fingers play a critical role in the acquisition of arithmetic knowledge. Further studies evidenced specific interference of finger movements with arithmetic problem solving in adults, raising the question of whether or not finger and number manipulations rely on common brain areas. In the present study, functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) was used to investigate the possible overlap between the brain areas involved in mental arithmetic and those involved in finger discrimination. Solving subtraction and multiplication problems was found to increase cerebral activation bilaterally in the horizontal part of the intraparietal sulcus (hIPS) and in the posterior part of the superior parietal lobule (PSPL). Finger discrimination was associated with increased activity in a bilateral occipito-parieto-precentral network extending from the extrastriate body area to the primary somatosensory and motor cortices. A conjunction analysis showed common areas for mental arithmetic and finger representation in the hIPS and PSPL bilaterally. Voxelwise correlations further showed that finger discrimination and mental arithmetic induced a similar pattern of activity within the parietal areas only. Pattern similarity was more important for the left than for the right hIPS and for subtraction than for multiplication. These findings provide the first evidence that the brain circuits involved in finger representation also underlie arithmetic operations in adults.

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