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J Neurosci. 2012 Oct 10;32(41):14433-41. doi: 10.1523/JNEUROSCI.2467-12.2012.

Temporal tuning properties along the human ventral visual stream.

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Institut National de la Santé et de la Recherche Médicale Unité 992, Saclay, F-91191 Gif-sur-Yvette, France.


Both our environment and our behavior contain many spatiotemporal regularities. Preferential and differential tuning of neural populations to these regularities can be demonstrated by assessing rate dependence of neural responses evoked during continuous periodic stimulation. Here, we used functional magnetic resonance imaging to measure regional variations of temporal sensitivity along the human ventral visual stream. By alternating one face and one house stimulus, we combined sufficient low-level signal modulation with changes in semantic meaning and could therefore drive all tiers of visual cortex strongly enough to assess rate dependence. We found several dissociations between early visual cortex and middle- and higher-tier regions. First, there was a progressive slowing down of stimulation rates yielding peak responses along the ventral visual stream. This finding shows the width of temporal integration windows to increase at higher hierarchical levels. Next, for fixed rates, early but not higher visual cortex responses additionally depended on the length of stimulus exposure, which may indicate increased persistence of responses to short stimuli at higher hierarchical levels. Finally, attention, which was recruited by an incidental task, interacted with stimulation rate and shifted tuning peaks toward lower frequencies. Together, these findings quantify neural response properties that are likely to be operational during natural vision and that provide putative neurofunctional substrates of mechanisms that are relevant in several psychophysical phenomena as masking and the attentional blink. Moreover, they illustrate temporal constraints for translating the deployment of attention into enhanced neural responses and thereby account for lower limits of attentional dwell time.

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