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J Neurophysiol. 2009 Feb;101(2):688-700. doi: 10.1152/jn.90657.2008. Epub 2008 Dec 3.

Object representations in the temporal cortex of monkeys and humans as revealed by functional magnetic resonance imaging.

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Laboratory of Brain and Cognition, National Institute of Mental Health, 49 Convent Dr., Bethesda, MD 20892, USA.


Increasing evidence suggests that the neural processes associated with identifying everyday stimuli include the classification of those stimuli into a limited number of semantic categories. How the neural representations of these stimuli are organized in the temporal lobe remains under debate. Here we used functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) to identify correlates for three current hypotheses concerning object representations in the inferior temporal (IT) cortex of monkeys and humans: representations based on animacy, semantic categories, or visual features. Subjects were presented with blocked images of faces, body parts (animate stimuli), objects, and places (inanimate stimuli), and multiple overlapping contrasts were used to identify the voxels most selective for each category. Stimulus representations appeared to segregate according to semantic relationships. Discrete regions selective for animate and inanimate stimuli were found in both species. These regions could be further subdivided into regions selective for individual categories. Notably, face-selective regions were contiguous with body-part-selective regions, and object-selective regions were contiguous with place-selective regions. When category-selective regions in monkeys were tested with blocks of single exemplars, individual voxels showed preferences for visually dissimilar exemplars from the same category and voxels with similar preferences tended to cluster together. Our results provide some novel observations with respect to how stimulus representations are organized in IT cortex. In addition, they further support the idea that representations of complex stimuli in IT cortex are organized into multiple hierarchical tiers, encompassing both semantic and physical properties.

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