The human cortical regions for processing high-level visual (HLV) functions of different categories remain ambiguous, especially in terms of their conjunctions and specifications. Moreover, the neurobiology of declined HLV functions in patients with Alzheimer's disease (AD) has not been fully investigated. This study provides a functionally sorted overview of HLV cortices for processing "what" and "where" visual perceptions and it investigates their atrophy in AD and MCI patients. Based upon activation likelihood estimation (ALE), brain regions responsible for processing five categories of visual perceptions included in "what" and "where" visions (i.e., object, face, word, motion, and spatial visions) were analyzed, and subsequent contrast analyses were performed to show regions with conjunctive and specific activations for processing these visual functions. Next, based on the resulting ALE maps, the atrophy of HLV cortices in AD and MCI patients was evaluated using voxel-based morphometry. Our ALE results showed brain regions for processing visual perception across the five categories, as well as areas of conjunction and specification. Our comparisons of gray matter (GM) volume demonstrated atrophy of three "where" visual cortices in late MCI group and extensive atrophy of HLV cortices (25 regions in both "what" and "where" visual cortices) in AD group. In addition, the GM volume of atrophied visual cortices in AD and MCI subjects was found to be correlated to the deterioration of overall cognitive status and to the cognitive performances related to memory, execution, and object recognition functions. In summary, these findings may add to our understanding of HLV network organization and of the evolution of visual perceptual dysfunction in AD as the disease progresses.
Keywords: Alzheimer's disease; activation likelihood estimation; functional magnetic resonance imaging; visual perception; voxel-based morphometry.