Identifying neural correlates of visual consciousness with ALE meta-analyses

Neuroimage. 2015 Nov 15;122:177-87. doi: 10.1016/j.neuroimage.2015.07.070. Epub 2015 Aug 1.


Neural correlates of consciousness (NCC) have been a topic of study for nearly two decades. In functional imaging studies, several regions have been proposed to constitute possible candidates for NCC, but as of yet, no quantitative summary of the literature on NCC has been done. The question whether single (striate or extrastriate) regions or a network consisting of extrastriate areas that project directly to fronto-parietal regions are necessary and sufficient neural correlates for visual consciousness is still highly debated [e.g., Rees et al., 2002, Nat Rev. Neurosci 3, 261-270; Tong, 2003, Nat Rev. Neurosci 4, 219-229]. The aim of this work was to elucidate this issue and give a synopsis of the present state of the art by conducting systematic and quantitative meta-analyses across functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) studies using several standard paradigms for conscious visual perception. In these paradigms, consciousness is operationalized via perceptual changes, while the visual stimulus remains invariant. An activation likelihood estimation (ALE) meta-analysis was performed, representing the best approach for voxel-wise meta-analyses to date. In addition to computing a meta-analysis across all paradigms, separate meta-analyses on bistable perception and masking paradigms were conducted to assess whether these paradigms show common or different NCC. For the overall meta-analysis, we found significant clusters of activation in inferior and middle occipital gyrus; fusiform gyrus; inferior temporal gyrus; caudate nucleus; insula; inferior, middle, and superior frontal gyri; precuneus; as well as in inferior and superior parietal lobules. These results suggest a subcortical-extrastriate-fronto-parietal network rather than a single region that constitutes the necessary NCC. The results of our exploratory paradigm-specific meta-analyses suggest that this subcortical-extrastriate-fronto-parietal network might be differentially activated as a function of the paradigms used to probe for NCC.

Keywords: Consciousness; Global workspace; Meta-analysis; NCC; Perception; fMRI.

Publication types

  • Meta-Analysis
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Brain / physiology*
  • Brain Mapping
  • Consciousness / physiology*
  • Frontal Lobe / physiology
  • Humans
  • Likelihood Functions
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging
  • Neural Pathways / physiology
  • Parietal Lobe / physiology
  • Perceptual Masking / physiology
  • Visual Cortex / physiology
  • Visual Perception / physiology*