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A human parietal face area contains aligned head-centered visual and tactile maps

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Visually guided eating, biting and kissing, and avoiding objects moving toward the face and toward which the face moves require prompt, coordinated processing of spatial visual and somatosensory information in order to protect the face and the brain. Single-cell recordings in parietal cortex have identified multisensory neurons with spatially restricted, aligned visual and somatosensory receptive fields, but so far, there has been no evidence for a topographic map in this area. Here we mapped the organization of a multisensory parietal face area in humans by acquiring functional magnetic resonance images while varying the polar angle of facial air puffs and close-up visual stimuli. We found aligned maps of tactile and near-face visual stimuli at the highest level of human association cortex—namely, in the superior part of the postcentral sulcus. We show that this area may code the location of visual stimuli with respect to the face, not with respect to the retina.

*NOTE: In the version of this article initially published online, there was an error in the affiliation in the html version. The first affiliation should read Department of Cognitive Science, University of California San Diego, La Jolla, California 92093, USA. The error has been corrected online.

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Figure 1: Experimental protocols and stimulus apparatus.
Figure 2: Somatosensory and visual stimuli activate a multisensory area in superior parietal cortex.
Figure 3: Aligned somatosensory and visual maps for a single subject (dorsolateral view).
Figure 4: Visual somatosensory alignment for four additional subjects.
Figure 5: Surface-based average visual and somatotopic maps from nine subjects.
Figure 6: Evidence for head-centered representation in human VIP.

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  • 06 October 2006

    Removed "Institute for Neural Computation"


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We thank D. Hagler for developing the concept and software implementation of cross-subject averaging of complex-valued data on morphed surfaces; R. Buxton, E. Wong, T. Liu and L. Frank at the University of California San Diego fMRI Center for scan time, pulse sequences and advice; L. May and R. Kurz for technical assistance; A. Dale, S. Pitzalis, F. Dick and A. Chiba for help and discussions; and L. Kemmer for pilot experiments. Supported by National Science Foundation BCS 0224321 (M.I.S.); US National Institutes of Health R01 NS41925 (E.W.), R01 NS36722 (R.B.) and R01 HD041581 (J.S.); and the Swartz Foundation (T.-P.J.).

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The authors contributed equally to this work.

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Correspondence to Martin I Sereno.

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The authors declare no competing financial interests.

Supplementary information

Supplementary Video 1

Face stimulus location and parietal face area activity map. The position of an air puff stimulus on the face is indicated by the moving white dot (center panel). The corresponding activity in the parietal face area is illustrated as a moving white stripe on closeup views of the unfolded cortex of the left and right hemisphere of one subject (left and right panels). The upper contralateral face (red) is represented anterior to the middle (blue) and lower (green) face in each hemisphere. (MPG 341 kb)

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Sereno, M., Huang, RS. A human parietal face area contains aligned head-centered visual and tactile maps. Nat Neurosci 9, 1337–1343 (2006).

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