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Cereb Cortex. 2009 Jul;19(7):1687-703. doi: 10.1093/cercor/bhn205. Epub 2008 Nov 17.

Seeing with profoundly deactivated mid-level visual areas: non-hierarchical functioning in the human visual cortex.

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Department of Neurobiology, Weizmann Institute of Science, Rehovot, Israel.


A fundamental concept in visual processing is that activity in high-order object-category distinctive regions (e.g., lateral occipital complex, fusiform face area, middle temporal+) is dependent on bottom-up flow of activity in earlier retinotopic areas (V2, V3, V4) whose main input originates from primary visual cortex (V1). Thus, activity in down stream areas should reflect lower-level inputs. Here we qualify this notion reporting case LG, a rare case of developmental object agnosia and prosopagnosia. In this person, V1 was robustly activated by visual stimuli, yet intermediate areas (V2-V4) were strongly deactivated. Despite this intermediate deactivation, activity in down stream visual areas remained robust, showing selectivity for houses and places, while selectivity for faces and objects was impaired. The extent of impairment evident in functional magnetic resonance imaging and electroencephalography activations was somewhat larger in the left hemisphere. This pattern of brain activity, coupled with fairly adequate everyday visual performance is compatible with models emphasizing the role of nonlinear local "amplification" of neuronal inputs in eliciting activity in ventral and dorsal visual pathways as well as perceptual experience in the human brain. Thus, while the proper functioning of intermediate areas appears essential for specialization in the cortex, daily visual behavior and reading are maintained even with deactivated intermediate visual areas.

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