Changes in cerebral blood oxygenation due to functional activation of the primary sensorimotor cortex during a unilateral finger opposition task were simultaneously mapped by deoxyhemoglobin-sensitive magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) and monitored by near-infrared spectroscopy (NIRS). Activation foci along the contralateral central sulcus displayed task-associated increases in MRI signal intensity, indicating a concomitant decrease of the focal concentration of deoxyhemoglobin. This interpretation was confirmed by simultaneous reductions in deoxyhemoglobin measured optically. Since observation of the latter effect required exact spatial matching of the MRI-detected activation foci and position of the fiber optic bundles ("optodes") used for transmitting and receiving light, it may be concluded that optical recordings of changes in deoxyhemoglobin during functional challenge probe only a restricted brain tissue region. While deoxyhemoglobin responses seen by NIRS were smaller for ipsi- than for contralateral finger movements, task-related increases in oxyhemoglobin were rather similar between both conditions and, thus, seem to be less specific. Furthermore, no consistent changes were obtained for total hemoglobin during task performance, possibly due to the short timing of the repetitive protocol. In general, results underline, in humans, the hitherto assumed signal physiology for functional brain mapping by oxygenation-sensitive MRI and allow assessment of both constraints and practicability of functional studies by NIRS.