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J Neurophysiol. 2011 Jun;105(6):2874-84. doi: 10.1152/jn.00977.2010. Epub 2011 Apr 6.

Neurons in the human hippocampus and amygdala respond to both low- and high-level image properties.

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  • 1Department of Neurology, Barrow Neurological Institute, Phoenix, Arizona, USA.


A large number of studies have demonstrated that structures within the medial temporal lobe, such as the hippocampus, are intimately involved in declarative memory for objects and people. Although these items are abstractions of the visual scene, specific visual details can change the speed and accuracy of their recall. By recording from 415 neurons in the hippocampus and amygdala of human epilepsy patients as they viewed images drawn from 10 image categories, we showed that the firing rates of 8% of these neurons encode image illuminance and contrast, low-level properties not directly pertinent to task performance, whereas in 7% of the neurons, firing rates encode the category of the item depicted in the image, a high-level property pertinent to the task. This simultaneous representation of high- and low-level image properties within the same brain areas may serve to bind separate aspects of visual objects into a coherent percept and allow episodic details of objects to influence mnemonic performance.

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