Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Spatial updating: how the brain keeps track of changing object locations during observer motion

Thomas Wolbers, Mary Hegarty, Christian Büchel & Jack M Loomis
Nature Neuroscience 11, 1223 - 1230 (2008)

As you move through an environment, the positions of surrounding objects relative to your body constantly change. Updating these locations is a central feature of situational awareness and readiness to act. Here, we used functional magnetic resonance imaging and a virtual environment to test how the human brain uses optic flow to monitor changing object coordinates. Only activation profiles in the precuneus and the dorsal premotor cortex (PMd) were indicative of an updating process operating on a memorized egocentric map of space. A subsequent eye movement study argued against the alternative explanation that activation in PMd could be driven by oculomotor signals. Finally, introducing a verbal response mode revealed a dissociation between the two regions, with the PMd only showing updating-related responses when participants responded by pointing. We conclude that visual spatial updating relies on the construction of updated representations in the precuneus and the context-dependent planning of motor actions in PMd.


Improved visual sensitivity during smooth pursuit eye movements

Alexander C Schütz, Doris I Braun, Dirk Kerzel & Karl R Gegenfurtner1
Nature Neuroscience 11, 1211 - 1216 (2008)

When we view the world around us, we constantly move our eyes. This brings objects of interest into the fovea and keeps them there, but visual sensitivity has been shown to deteriorate while the eyes are moving. Here we show that human sensitivity for some visual stimuli is improved during smooth pursuit eye movements. Detection thresholds for briefly flashed, colored stimuli were 16% lower during pursuit than during fixation. Similarly, detection thresholds for luminance-defined stimuli of high spatial frequency were lowered. These findings suggest that the pursuit-induced sensitivity increase may have its neuronal origin in the parvocellular retino-thalamic system. This implies that the visual system not only uses feedback connections to improve processing for locations and objects being attended to, but that a whole processing subsystem can be boosted. During pursuit, facilitation of the parvocellular system may reduce motion blur for stationary objects and increase sensitivity to speed changes of the tracked object.


Monday, September 15, 2008

Unsupervised Natural Experience Rapidly Alters Invariant Object Representation in Visual Cortex.

Li N, Dicarlo JJ.
Science. 2008 Sep 12;321(5895):1502-1507

Object recognition is challenging because each object produces myriad retinal images. Responses of neurons from the inferior temporal cortex (IT) are selective to different objects, yet tolerant ("invariant") to changes in object position, scale, and pose. How does the brain construct this neuronal tolerance? We report a form of neuronal learning that suggests the underlying solution. Targeted alteration of the natural temporal contiguity of visual experience caused specific changes in IT position tolerance. This unsupervised temporal slowness learning (UTL) was substantial, increased with experience, and was significant in single IT neurons after just 1 hour. Together with previous theoretical work and human object perception experiments, we speculate that UTL may reflect the mechanism by which the visual stream builds and maintains tolerant object representations.

PMID: 18787171

Full text: http://www.sciencemag.org/cgi/reprint/321/5895/1502.pdf

Saturday, September 13, 2008

Effects of category learning on the stimulus selectivity of macaque inferior temporal neurons

De Baene W, Ons B, Wagemans J, Vogels R.
Learn Mem. 2008 Aug 26;15(9):717-27.

Primates can learn to categorize complex shapes, but as yet it is unclear how this categorization learning affects the representation of shape in visual cortex. Previous studies that have examined the effect of categorization learning on shape representation in the macaque inferior temporal (IT) cortex have produced diverse and conflicting results that are difficult to interpret owing to inadequacies in design. The present study overcomes these issues by recording IT responses before and after categorization learning. We used parameterized shapes that varied along two shape dimensions. Monkeys were extensively trained to categorize the shapes along one of the two dimensions. Unlike previous studies, our paradigm counterbalanced the relevant categorization dimension across animals. We found that categorization learning increased selectivity specifically for the category-relevant stimulus dimension (i.e., an expanded representation of the trained dimension), and that the ratio of within-category response similarities to between-category response similarities increased for the relevant dimension (i.e., category tuning). These small effects were only evident when the learned category-related effects were disentangled from the prelearned stimulus selectivity. These results suggest that shape-categorization learning can induce minor category-related changes in the shape tuning of IT neurons in adults, suggesting that learned, category-related changes in neuronal response mainly occur downstream from IT.

PMID: 18772261

Full text: http://learnmem.cshlp.org/cgi/content/full/15/9/717