BACKGROUND: Surgical skills acquisition is under continuous development due to the emergence of new technologies, and there is a need for assessment tools to develop along with these. A range of neuroimaging modalities has been used to map the functional activation of brain networks while surgeons acquire novel surgical skills. These have been proposed as a method to provide a deeper understanding of surgical expertise and offer new possibilities for the personalized training of future surgeons. With studies differing in modalities, outcomes, and surgical skills there is a need for a systematic review of the evidence. This systematic review aims to summarize the current knowledge on the topic and evaluate the potential use of neuroimaging in surgical education.

METHODS: We conducted a systematic review of neuroimaging studies that mapped functional brain activation while surgeons with different levels of expertise learned and performed technical and non-technical surgical tasks. We included all studies published before July 1st, 2023, in MEDLINE, EMBASE and WEB OF SCIENCE.

RESULTS: 38 task-based brain mapping studies were identified, consisting of randomized controlled trials, case-control studies, and observational cohort or cross-sectional studies. The studies employed a wide range of brain mapping modalities, including electroencephalography, functional magnetic resonance imaging, positron emission tomography, and functional near-infrared spectroscopy, activating brain areas involved in the execution and sensorimotor or cognitive control of surgical skills, especially the prefrontal cortex, supplementary motor area, and primary motor area, showing significant changes between novices and experts.

CONCLUSION: Functional neuroimaging can reveal how task-related brain activity reflects technical and non-technical surgical skills. The existing body of work highlights the potential of neuroimaging to link task-related brain activity patterns with the individual level of competency or improvement in performance after training surgical skills. More research is needed to establish its validity and usefulness as an assessment tool.

Original languageEnglish
JournalSurgical Endoscopy
Issue number6
Pages (from-to)3004-3026
Number of pages23
Publication statusPublished - Jun 2024


  • Brain Mapping/methods
  • Brain/diagnostic imaging
  • Clinical Competence
  • Electroencephalography
  • Humans
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging/methods
  • Neuroimaging/methods
  • Positron-Emission Tomography/methods


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