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Single-Unit Recordings Reveal the Selectivity of a Human Face Area

Journal Contribution - Journal Article

The exquisite capacity of primates to detect and recognize faces is crucial for social interactions. Although disentangling the neural basis of human face recognition remains a key goal in neuroscience, direct evidence at the single-neuron level is limited. We recorded from face-selective neurons in human visual cortex in a region characterized by functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) activations for faces compared with objects. The majority of visually responsive neurons in this fMRI activation showed strong selectivity at short latencies for faces compared with objects. Feature-scrambled faces and face-like objects could also drive these neurons, suggesting that this region is not tightly tuned to the visual attributes that typically define whole human faces. These single-cell recordings within the human face processing system provide vital experimental evidence linking previous imaging studies in humans and invasive studies in animal models.SIGNIFICANCE STATEMENT We present the first recordings of face-selective neurons in or near an fMRI-defined patch in human visual cortex. Our unbiased multielectrode array recordings (i.e., no selection of neurons based on a search strategy) confirmed the validity of the BOLD contrast (faces-objects) in humans, a finding with implications for all human imaging studies. By presenting faces, feature-scrambled faces, and face-pareidolia (perceiving faces in inanimate objects) stimuli, we demonstrate that neurons at this level of the visual hierarchy are broadly tuned to the features of a face, independent of spatial configuration and low-level visual attributes.
Journal: Journal of Neuroscience
ISSN: 0270-6474
Issue: 45
Volume: 41
Pages: 9340 - 9349