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J Neurosci. 2006 Jun 21;26(25):6791-802.

Linking neural representation to function in stereoscopic depth perception: roles of the middle temporal area in coarse versus fine disparity discrimination.

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Department of Anatomy and Neurobiology, Washington University School of Medicine, St. Louis, Missouri 63110, USA.


Neurons selective for binocular disparity form the neural substrate for stereoscopic depth perception and are found in several areas of primate visual cortex. Presumably, multiple representations of disparity exist to serve different functions, but the specific contributions of different visual areas to depth perception remain poorly understood. We examine this issue by comparing the contributions of the middle temporal (MT) area to performance of two depth discrimination tasks: a "coarse" task that involves discrimination between absolute disparities in the presence of noise, and a "fine" task that involves discrimination of very small differences in relative disparity between two stimuli in the absence of noise. In the fine task, we find that electrical microstimulation of MT does not affect perceptual decisions, although many individual MT neurons have sufficient sensitivity to account for behavioral performance. In contrast, microstimulation at the same recording sites does bias depth percepts in the coarse task. We hypothesized that these results may be explained by the fact that MT neurons do not represent relative disparity signals that are thought to be essential for the fine task. This hypothesis was supported by single-unit recordings that show that MT neurons signal absolute, but not relative, disparities in a stimulus configuration similar to that used in the fine task. This work establishes a link between the neural representation of disparity in MT and the functional contributions of this area to depth perception.

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