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A functional and perceptual signature of the second visual area in primates


There is no generally accepted account of the function of the second visual cortical area (V2), partly because no simple response properties robustly distinguish V2 neurons from those in primary visual cortex (V1). We constructed synthetic stimuli replicating the higher-order statistical dependencies found in natural texture images and used them to stimulate macaque V1 and V2 neurons. Most V2 cells responded more vigorously to these textures than to control stimuli lacking naturalistic structure; V1 cells did not. Functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) measurements in humans revealed differences between V1 and V2 that paralleled the neuronal measurements. The ability of human observers to detect naturalistic structure in different types of texture was well predicted by the strength of neuronal and fMRI responses in V2 but not in V1. Together, these results reveal a particular functional role for V2 in the representation of natural image structure.

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Figure 1: Analysis and synthesis of naturalistic textures.
Figure 2: Neuronal responses to naturalistic textures differentiate V2 from V1 in macaques.
Figure 3: Receptive field size does not explain differential responses to naturalistic texture stimuli in V2.
Figure 4: fMRI responses to naturalistic textures differentiate V2 from V1 in humans.
Figure 5: Neuronal responses to naturalistic textures in V2 predict perceptual sensitivity.
Figure 6: Crowd-sourced psychophysical estimates of sensitivity for hundreds of texture families.
Figure 7: Using higher-order correlations to predict perceptual sensitivity.


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We are grateful to G. Boynton for discussions, to M. Landy for comments on the manuscript, to M. Brotzmang for help programming the Mechanical Turk experiments and to members of the Movshon laboratory for help with physiological experiments. This work was supported by US National Institutes of Health grant EY04440, the Howard Hughes Medical Institute, the New York University Center for Brain Imaging and US National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowships to J.F. and C.M.Z.

Author information




J.F. and C.M.Z. performed the experiments and analysis. All authors designed the experiments, interpreted the results and wrote the paper.

Corresponding author

Correspondence to Jeremy Freeman.

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The authors declare no competing financial interests.

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Freeman, J., Ziemba, C., Heeger, D. et al. A functional and perceptual signature of the second visual area in primates. Nat Neurosci 16, 974–981 (2013).

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