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J Neurosci. 1996 Aug 15;16(16):5205-15.

Differential sensitivity of human visual cortex to faces, letterstrings, and textures: a functional magnetic resonance imaging study.

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  • 1Neuropsychology Laboratory, Veterans Affairs Medical Center, West Haven, Connecticut 06516, USA.


Twelve normal subjects viewed alternating sequences of unfamiliar faces, unpronounceable nonword letterstrings, and textures while echoplanar functional magnetic resonance images were acquired in seven slices extending from the posterior margin of the splenium to near the occipital pole. These stimuli were chosen to elicit initial category-specific processing in extrastriate cortex while minimizing semantic processing. Overall, faces evoked more activation than did letterstrings. Comparing hemispheres, faces evoked greater activation in the right than the left hemisphere, whereas letterstrings evoked greater activation in the left than the right hemisphere. Faces primarily activated the fusiform gyrus bilaterally, and also activated the right occipitotemporal and inferior occipital sulci and a region of lateral cortex centered in the middle temporal gyrus. Letterstrings primarily activated the left occipitotemporal and inferior occipital sulci. Textures primarily activated portions of the collateral sulcus. In the left hemisphere, 9 of the 12 subjects showed a characteristic pattern in which faces activated a discrete region of the lateral fusiform gyrus, whereas letterstrings activated a nearby region of cortex within the occipitotemporal and inferior occipital sulci. These results suggest that different regions of ventral extrastriate cortex are specialized for processing the perceptual features of faces and letterstrings, and that these regions are intermediate between earlier processing in striate and peristriate cortex, and later lexical, semantic, and associative processing in downstream cortical regions.

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