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Int Rev Neurobiol. 2000;44:269-92.

Human cortical areas underlying the perception of optic flow: brain imaging studies.

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  • 1Department of Neurology, University of Freiburg, Germany.


In summary, we have reviewed electrophysiological and brain imaging studies of motion and optic-flow processing. Single-unit studies indicate that MST (V5a) is a site of optic-flow extraction and that this information can be used to guide pursuit eye movements and to estimate heading. The EEG and MEG studies point to a localized electrical dipole in occipitotemporal cortex evoked by visual motion. We have also discussed the evidence from functional imaging studies for response specificity of the rCBF and BOLD effects in posterior cortex to visual motion and optic flow. Focal attention modulates the amplitude of the BOLD signal evoked by visual motion stimulation. Retinotopic mapping techniques have been used to locate region borders within the visual cortex. Our results indicate that striate (V1) and extrastriate areas (V2, V3/V3a) respond robustly to optic flow. However, with exception of a more pronounced response in V3/V3a to random walk, we found little evidence for response selectivity with respect to flow type and disparity in these early visual areas. In a similar fashion, the human V5/V5a complex responds well to optic flow, but these responses do not vary significantly with the type of flow field and do not seem to depend on disparity. In contrast, the kinetic occipital area (KO/V3b) responds well to optic-flow information, and it is the only area that produces more pronounced activation to the disparity in the flow fields. These initial results are promising because they suggest that the fMRI method can be sensitive to changes in stimulus parameters that define flow fields. More work will be required to explore the extent to which these responses reflect the neuronal processing of optic flow. Eye position tracking is now possible during fMRI experiments. We have demonstrated that the eye movements affect the BOLD responses in motion-sensitive areas (Kimming et al., 1999). Further experiments in our laboratory are aimed at understanding the effects of eye movements on the neuronal coding of complex optic-flow fields (Schira et al., 1999).

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