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Neuroimage. 2010 Jan 15;49(2):1632-40. doi: 10.1016/j.neuroimage.2009.09.066. Epub 2009 Oct 6.

A comparison of fMRI adaptation and multivariate pattern classification analysis in visual cortex.

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Nottingham Visual Neuroscience, School of Psychology, University of Nottingham, Nottingham, UK.


Functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) has become a ubiquitous tool in cognitive neuroscience. The technique allows noninvasive measurements of cortical responses in the human brain, but only on the millimeter scale. Because a typical voxel contains many thousands of neurons with varied properties, establishing the selectivity of their responses directly is impossible. In recent years, two methods using fMRI aimed at studying the selectivity of neuronal populations on a 'subvoxel' scale have been heavily used. The first technique, fMRI adaptation, relies on the observation that the blood oxygen level-dependent (BOLD) response in a given voxel is reduced after prolonged presentation of a stimulus, and that this reduction is selective to the characteristics of the repeated stimuli (adapters). The second technique, multivariate pattern analysis (MVPA), makes use of multivariate statistics to recover small biases in individual voxels in their responses to different stimuli. It is thought that these biases arise due to the uneven distribution of neurons (with different properties) sampled by the many voxels in the imaged volume. These two techniques have not been compared explicitly, however, and little is known about their relative sensitivities. Here, we compared fMRI results from orientation-specific visual adaptation and orientation-classification by MVPA, using optimized experimental designs for each, and found that the multivariate pattern classification approach was more sensitive to small differences in stimulus orientation than the adaptation paradigm. Estimates of orientation selectivity obtained with the two methods were, however, very highly correlated across visual areas.

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