Coding visual images of objects in the inferotemporal cortex of the macaque monkey

J Neurophysiol. 1991 Jul;66(1):170-89. doi: 10.1152/jn.1991.66.1.170.


1. The inferotemporal cortex (IT) has been thought to play an essential and specific role in visual object discrimination and recognition, because a lesion of IT in the monkey results in a specific deficit in learning tasks that require these visual functions. To understand the cellular basis of the object discrimination and recognition processes in IT, we determined the optimal stimulus of individual IT cells in anesthetized, immobilized monkeys. 2. In the posterior one-third or one-fourth of IT, most cells could be activated maximally by bars or disks just by adjusting the size, orientation, or color of the stimulus. 3. In the remaining anterior two-thirds or three-quarters of IT, most cells required more complex features for their maximal activation. 4. The critical feature for the activation of individual anterior IT cells varied from cell to cell: a complex shape in some cells and a combination of texture or color with contour-shape in other cells. 5. Cells that showed different types of complexity for the critical feature were intermingled throughout anterior IT, whereas cells recorded in single penetrations showed critical features that were related in some respects. 6. Generally speaking, the critical features of anterior IT cells were moderately complex and can be thought of as partial features common to images of several different natural objects. The selectivity to the optimal stimulus was rather sharp, although not absolute. We thus propose that, in anterior IT, images of objects are coded by combinations of active cells, each of which represents the presence of a particular partial feature in the image.

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Brain Mapping
  • Color
  • Discrimination, Psychological / physiology
  • Macaca
  • Neurons / physiology
  • Photic Stimulation / methods
  • Temporal Lobe / cytology
  • Temporal Lobe / physiology*
  • Visual Perception / physiology*