Interpreting bold: Towards a dialogue between cognitive and cellular neuroscience

Catherine N. Hall, Clare Howarth, Zebulun Kurth-Nelson, Anusha Mishra

Research output: Contribution to journalEditorialpeer-review

37 Scopus citations


Cognitive neuroscience depends on the use of blood oxygenation level-dependent (BOLD) functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) to probe brain function.Although commonly used as a surrogatemeasure of neuronal activity, BOLD signals actually reflect changes in brain blood oxygenation.Understanding the mechanisms linking neuronal activity to vascular perfusion is, therefore, critical in interpreting BOLD.Advances in cellular neuroscience demonstrating differences in this neurovascular relationship in different brain regions, conditions or pathologies are often not accounted for when interpreting BOLD.Meanwhile, within cognitive neuroscience, the increasing use of high magnetic field strengths and the development of model-based tasks and analyses have broadened the capability of BOLD signals to inform us about the underlying neuronal activity, but these methods are lesswell understood by cellular neuroscientists.In 2016, a Royal Society TheoMurphyMeeting brought scientists from the two communities together to discuss these issues.Here, we consolidate the main conclusions arising from that meeting.We discuss areas of consensus about what BOLD fMRI can tell us about underlying neuronal activity, and how advanced modelling techniques have improved our ability to use and interpret BOLD.We also highlight areas of controversy in understanding BOLD and suggest research directions required to resolve these issues.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number20150348
JournalPhilosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences
Issue number1705
StatePublished - Oct 5 2016
Externally publishedYes


  • BOLD
  • Cellular neuroscience
  • Cognitive neuroscience
  • Disease
  • Neurovascular
  • fMRI

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Biochemistry, Genetics and Molecular Biology(all)
  • Agricultural and Biological Sciences(all)


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