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Nature. 2004 Mar 25;428(6981):423-6.

Imaging cortical correlates of illusion in early visual cortex.

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Department of Neurobiology and the Grodetsky Center for Studies of Higher Brain Function, The Weizmann Institute of Science, 76100 Rehovot, Israel.


Exploring visual illusions reveals fundamental principles of cortical processing. Illusory motion perception of non-moving stimuli was described almost a century ago by Gestalt psychologists. However, the underlying neuronal mechanisms remain unknown. To explore cortical mechanisms underlying the 'line-motion' illusion, we used real-time optical imaging, which is highly sensitive to subthreshold activity. We examined, in the visual cortex of the anaesthetized cat, responses to five stimuli: a stationary small square and a long bar; a moving square; a drawn-out bar; and the well-known line-motion illusion, a stationary square briefly preceding a long stationary bar presentation. Whereas flashing the bar alone evoked the expected localized, short latency and high amplitude activity patterns, presenting a square 60-100 ms before a bar induced the dynamic activity patterns resembling that of fast movement. The preceding square, even though physically non-moving, created gradually propagating subthreshold cortical activity that must contribute to illusory motion, because it was indistinguishable from cortical representations of real motion in this area. These findings demonstrate the effect of spatio-temporal patterns of subthreshold synaptic potentials on cortical processing and the shaping of perception.

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