Neural correlates of binocular rivalry in the human lateral geniculate nucleus


When dissimilar images are presented to the two eyes, they compete for perceptual dominance so that only one image is visible at a time while the other one is suppressed. Neural correlates of such binocular rivalry have been found at multiple stages of visual processing, including striate and extrastriate visual cortex. However, little is known about the role of subcortical processing during binocular rivalry. Here we used fMRI to measure neural activity in the human LGN while subjects viewed contrast-modulated gratings presented dichoptically. Neural activity in the LGN correlated strongly with the subjects' reported percepts, such that activity increased when a high-contrast grating was perceived and decreased when a low-contrast grating was perceived. Our results provide evidence for a functional role of the LGN in binocular rivalry and suggest that the LGN, traditionally viewed as the gateway to the visual cortex, may be an early gatekeeper of visual awareness.

Access options

Rent or Buy article

Get time limited or full article access on ReadCube.


All prices are NET prices.

Figure 1: Experimental design and stimuli.
Figure 2: fMRI signals during binocular rivalry and physical stimulus alternations in the LGN and V1 (group analysis).
Figure 3: fMRI signals during binocular rivalry and physical stimulus alternations in the LGN and V1 (single subjects).
Figure 4: Effect of perceptual duration on fMRI signals.
Figure 5: Comparison of fMRI signals during binocular rivalry and physical stimulus alternations in the LGN and V1.


  1. 1

    Blake, R. A neural theory of binocular rivalry. Psychol. Rev. 96, 145–167 (1989).

  2. 2

    Levelt, W.J. Binocular brightness averaging and contour information. Br. J. Psychol. 56, 1–13 (1965).

  3. 3

    Mueller, T.J. & Blake, R. A fresh look at the temporal dynamics of binocular rivalry. Biol. Cybern. 61, 223–232 (1989).

  4. 4

    Crick, F. & Koch, C. Consciousness and neuroscience. Cereb. Cortex 8, 97–107 (1998).

  5. 5

    Sheinberg, D.L. & Logothetis, N.K. The role of temporal cortical areas in perceptual organization. Proc. Natl. Acad. Sci. USA 94, 3408–3413 (1997).

  6. 6

    Logothetis, N.K. & Schall, J.D. Neuronal correlates of subjective visual perception. Science 245, 761–763 (1989).

  7. 7

    Leopold, D.A. & Logothetis, N.K. Activity changes in early visual cortex reflect monkeys' percepts during binocular rivalry. Nature 379, 549–553 (1996).

  8. 8

    Lehky, S.R. & Blake, R. Organization of binocular pathways: modeling and data related to rivalry. Neural Comput. 3, 44–53 (1991).

  9. 9

    Polonsky, A., Blake, R., Braun, J. & Heeger, D.J. Neuronal activity in human primary visual cortex correlates with perception during binocular rivalry. Nat. Neurosci. 3, 1153–1159 (2000).

  10. 10

    Tong, F. & Engel, S.A. Interocular rivalry revealed in the human cortical blind-spot representation. Nature 411, 195–199 (2001).

  11. 11

    Sherman, S.M. & Guillery, R.W. Exploring the Thalamus (Academic Press, San Diego, 2001).

  12. 12

    Lehky, S.R. An astable multivibrator model of binocular rivalry. Perception 17, 215–228 (1988).

  13. 13

    Lehky, S.R. & Maunsell, J.H. No binocular rivalry in the LGN of alert macaque monkeys. Vision Res. 36, 1225–1234 (1996).

  14. 14

    Boynton, G.M., Engel, S.A., Glover, G.H. & Heeger, D.J. Linear systems analysis of functional magnetic resonance imaging in human V1. J. Neurosci. 16, 4207–4221 (1996).

  15. 15

    Kastner, S. et al. Functional imaging of the human lateral geniculate nucleus and pulvinar. J. Neurophysiol. 91, 438–448 (2004).

  16. 16

    Schneider, K.A. & Kastner, S. Visual responses of the human superior colliculus: a high-resolution fMRI study. J. Neurophysiol. 94, 2491–2503 (2005).

  17. 17

    O'Connor, D.H., Fukui, M.M., Pinsk, M.A. & Kastner, S. Attention modulates responses in the human lateral geniculate nucleus. Nat. Neurosci. 5, 1203–1209 (2002).

  18. 18

    Schneider, K.A., Richter, M.C. & Kastner, S. Retinotopic organization and functional subdivisions of the human lateral geniculate nucleus: a high-resolution functional magnetic resonance imaging study. J. Neurosci. 24, 8975–8985 (2004).

  19. 19

    Tong, F., Nakayama, K., Vaughan, J.T. & Kanwisher, N. Binocular rivalry and visual awareness in human extrastriate cortex. Neuron 21, 753–759 (1998).

  20. 20

    Lee, S.H. & Blake, R. V1 activity is reduced during binocular rivalry. J. Vis. 2, 618–626 (2002).

  21. 21

    Lee, S.H., Blake, R. & Heeger, D.J. Traveling waves of activity in primary visual cortex during binocular rivalry. Nat. Neurosci. 8, 22–23 (2005).

  22. 22

    Rodieck, R.W. & Dreher, B. Visual suppression from nondominant eye in the lateral geniculate nucleus: a comparison of cat and monkey. Exp. Brain Res. 35, 465–477 (1979).

  23. 23

    Marrocco, R.T. & McClurkin, J.W. Binocular interaction in the lateral geniculate nucleus of the monkey. Brain Res. 168, 633–637 (1979).

  24. 24

    Schroeder, C.E., Tenke, C.E., Arezzo, J.C. & Vaughan, H.G., Jr. Binocularity in the lateral geniculate nucleus of the alert macaque. Brain Res. 521, 303–310 (1990).

  25. 25

    Sengpiel, F., Blakemore, C. & Harrad, R. Interocular suppression in the primary visual cortex: a possible neural basis of binocular rivalry. Vision Res. 35, 179–195 (1995).

  26. 26

    Pape, H.C. & Eysel, U.T. Binocular interactions in the lateral geniculate nucleus of the cat: GABAergic inhibition reduced by dominant afferent activity. Exp. Brain Res. 61, 265–271 (1986).

  27. 27

    Sanderson, K.J., Bishop, P.O. & Darian-Smith, I. The properties of the binocular receptive fields of lateral geniculate neurons. Exp. Brain Res. 13, 178–207 (1971).

  28. 28

    Schmielau, F. & Singer, W. The role of visual cortex for binocular interactions in the cat lateral geniculate nucleus. Brain Res. 120, 354–361 (1977).

  29. 29

    Singer, W. Inhibitory binocular interaction in the lateral geniculate body of the cat. Brain Res. 18, 165–170 (1970).

  30. 30

    Varela, F.J. & Singer, W. Neuronal dynamics in the visual corticothalamic pathway revealed through binocular rivalry. Exp. Brain Res. 66, 10–20 (1987).

  31. 31

    Livingstone, M.S. & Hubel, D.H. Psychophysical evidence for separate channels for the perception of form, color, movement, and depth. J. Neurosci. 7, 3416–3468 (1987).

  32. 32

    Lund, J.S. & Boothe, R.G. Interlaminar connections and pyramidal neuron organisation in the visual cortex, area 17, of the Macaque monkey. J. Comp. Neurol. 159, 305–334 (1975).

  33. 33

    Guillery, R.W., Feig, S.L. & Lozsadi, D.A. Paying attention to the thalamic reticular nucleus. Trends Neurosci. 21, 28–32 (1998).

  34. 34

    Logothetis, N.K., Guggenberger, H., Peled, S. & Pauls, J. Functional imaging of the monkey brain. Nat. Neurosci. 2, 555–562 (1999).

  35. 35

    Crick, F. & Koch, C. Are we aware of neural activity in primary visual cortex? Nature 375, 121–123 (1995).

  36. 36

    Lumer, E.D., Friston, K.J. & Rees, G. Neural correlates of perceptual rivalry in the human brain. Science 280, 1930–1934 (1998).

  37. 37

    Cohen, M.S. Parametric analysis of fMRI data using linear systems methods. Neuroimage 6, 93–103 (1997).

  38. 38

    Friston, K.J. et al. Statistical parametric maps in functional imaging: a general linear approach. Hum. Brain Mapp. 2, 189–210 (1995).

  39. 39

    Sereno, M.I. et al. Borders of multiple visual areas in humans revealed by functional magnetic resonance imaging. Science 268, 889–893 (1995).

Download references


We thank K. Weiner for help with manuscript preparation. This study was supported by NIH grants R01MH-64043, P50MH-62196 and T32 MH065214. K.W. was also supported by the German National Academic Foundation and the German Academic Exchange Service.

Author information



Corresponding author

Correspondence to Sabine Kastner.

Ethics declarations

Competing interests

The authors declare no competing financial interests.

Supplementary information

Supplementary Fig. 1

Checkerboard localizer. (PDF 95 kb)

Supplementary Fig. 2

Behavioral results. (PDF 171 kb)

Supplementary Fig. 3

fMRI signal amplitudes in LGN and V1 during rivalry (red) and physical alternations (black). (PDF 151 kb)

Supplementary Table 1 (PDF 55 kb)

Rights and permissions

Reprints and Permissions

About this article

Cite this article

Wunderlich, K., Schneider, K. & Kastner, S. Neural correlates of binocular rivalry in the human lateral geniculate nucleus. Nat Neurosci 8, 1595–1602 (2005).

Download citation

Further reading