Population coding of visual space: comparison of spatial representations in dorsal and ventral pathways

Front Comput Neurosci. 2011 Feb 1;4:159. doi: 10.3389/fncom.2010.00159. eCollection 2011.


Although the representation of space is as fundamental to visual processing as the representation of shape, it has received relatively little attention from neurophysiological investigations. In this study we characterize representations of space within visual cortex, and examine how they differ in a first direct comparison between dorsal and ventral subdivisions of the visual pathways. Neural activities were recorded in anterior inferotemporal cortex (AIT) and lateral intraparietal cortex (LIP) of awake behaving monkeys, structures associated with the ventral and dorsal visual pathways respectively, as a stimulus was presented at different locations within the visual field. In spatially selective cells, we find greater modulation of cell responses in LIP with changes in stimulus position. Further, using a novel population-based statistical approach (namely, multidimensional scaling), we recover the spatial map implicit within activities of neural populations, allowing us to quantitatively compare the geometry of neural space with physical space. We show that a population of spatially selective LIP neurons, despite having large receptive fields, is able to almost perfectly reconstruct stimulus locations within a low-dimensional representation. In contrast, a population of AIT neurons, despite each cell being spatially selective, provide less accurate low-dimensional reconstructions of stimulus locations. They produce instead only a topologically (categorically) correct rendition of space, which nevertheless might be critical for object and scene recognition. Furthermore, we found that the spatial representation recovered from population activity shows greater translation invariance in LIP than in AIT. We suggest that LIP spatial representations may be dimensionally isomorphic with 3D physical space, while in AIT spatial representations may reflect a more categorical representation of space (e.g., "next to" or "above").

Keywords: extrastriate; inferotemporal cortex; lateral intraparietal cortex; low-dimensional manifolds; monkey; multidimensional scaling; spatial vision.