One of the first cognitive areas studied with PET in normals was language processing. Researchers at Washington University, St. Louis, reported a number of subtraction comparisons between elemental language processing tasks and regional cerebral blood flow using the O15 method. In a classic study by Petersen and colleagues in 1989, normal subjects were imaged while viewing words, listening to words, speaking words, and generating words. Using the pixel-to-pixel sub traction technique, cerebral blood flow during each of these conditions was compared (e.g., listening minus viewing, speaking minus listening, generating minus speaking). Each task activated a distinct set of brain areas, demonstrating both that elemental cognitive tasks are somewhat localized and that the salient brain areas are organized into networks that underlie specific mental operations. One major goal of current research is to establish further the nature of these networks. Another goal is to understand disorders of language, especially in children. The radioactivity used in PET has limited functional imaging research in children but fMRI can be used without this concern.

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