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A novel functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) brain mapping method is presented within the statistical modeling framework of hidden semi-Markov event sequence models (HSMESMs). Neural activation detection is formulated at the voxel level in terms of time coupling between the sequence of hemodynamic response onsets (HROs) observed in the fMRI signal, and an HSMESM of the hidden sequence of task-induced neural activations. The sequence of HRO events is derived from a continuous wavelet transform (CWT) of the fMRI signal. The brain activation HSMESM is built from the timing information of the input stimulation protocol. The rich mathematical framework of HSMESMs makes these models an effective and versatile approach for fMRI data analysis. Solving for the HSMESM Evaluation and Learning problems enables the model to automatically detect neural activation embedded in a given set of fMRI signals, without requiring any template basis function or prior shape assumption for the fMRI response. Solving for the HSMESM Decoding problem allows to enrich brain mapping with activation lag mapping, activation mode visualizing, and hemodynamic response function analysis. Activation detection results obtained on synthetic and real epoch-related fMRI data demonstrate the superiority of the HSMESM mapping method with respect to a real application case of the statistical parametric mapping (SPM) approach. In addition, the HSMESM mapping method appears clearly insensitive to timing variations of the hemodynamic response, and exhibits low sensitivity to fluctuations of its shape.