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Elife. 2017 Apr 4;6. pii: e18558. doi: 10.7554/eLife.18558.

A causal relationship between face-patch activity and face-detection behavior.

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Departments of Otolaryngology and Bioengineering, University of Pittsburgh, Pittsburgh, United States.
Laboratory of Neural Systems, The Rockefeller University, New York, United States.


The primate brain contains distinct areas densely populated by face-selective neurons. One of these, face-patch ML, contains neurons selective for contrast relationships between face parts. Such contrast-relationships can serve as powerful heuristics for face detection. However, it is unknown whether neurons with such selectivity actually support face-detection behavior. Here, we devised a naturalistic face-detection task and combined it with fMRI-guided pharmacological inactivation of ML to test whether ML is of critical importance for real-world face detection. We found that inactivation of ML impairs face detection. The effect was anatomically specific, as inactivation of areas outside ML did not affect face detection, and it was categorically specific, as inactivation of ML impaired face detection while sparing body and object detection. These results establish that ML function is crucial for detection of faces in natural scenes, performing a critical first step on which other face processing operations can build.


fMRI; face patch; inactivation; neuroscience; rhesus macaque

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