The Organization and Operation of Inferior Temporal Cortex

Annu Rev Vis Sci. 2018 Sep 15;4:381-402. doi: 10.1146/annurev-vision-091517-034202. Epub 2018 Jul 30.


Inferior temporal cortex (IT) is a key part of the ventral visual pathway implicated in object, face, and scene perception. But how does IT work? Here, I describe an organizational scheme that marries form and function and provides a framework for future research. The scheme consists of a series of stages arranged along the posterior-anterior axis of IT, defined by anatomical connections and functional responses. Each stage comprises a complement of subregions that have a systematic spatial relationship. The organization of each stage is governed by an eccentricity template, and corresponding eccentricity representations across stages are interconnected. Foveal representations take on a role in high-acuity object vision (including face recognition); intermediate representations compute other aspects of object vision such as behavioral valence (using color and surface cues); and peripheral representations encode information about scenes. This multistage, parallel-processing model invokes an innately determined organization refined by visual experience that is consistent with principles of cortical development. The model is also consistent with principles of evolution, which suggest that visual cortex expanded through replication of retinotopic areas. Finally, the model predicts that the most extensively studied network within IT-the face patches-is not unique but rather one manifestation of a canonical set of operations that reveal general principles of how IT works.

Keywords: brain homologies; color processing; face processing; functional organization; inferior temporal cortex; inferotemporal cortex; ventral visual pathway.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Color Perception / physiology
  • Facial Recognition / physiology
  • Humans
  • Models, Neurological
  • Temporal Lobe / physiology*
  • Visual Cortex / physiology*
  • Visual Pathways / physiology*
  • Visual Perception / physiology*