Perturbation of Posterior Inferior Temporal Cortical Activity Impairs Coarse Orientation Discrimination

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It is reasonable to assume that the discrimination of simple visual stimuli depends on the activity of early visual cortical neurons, because simple visual features are supposedly coded in these areas whereas more complex features are coded in late visual areas. Recently, we showed that training monkeys in a coarse orientation discrimination task modified the response properties of single neurons in the posterior inferior temporal (PIT) cortex, a late visual area. Here, we examined the contribution of PIT to coarse orientation discrimination using causal perturbation methods. Electrical stimulation (ES) of PIT with currents of at least 100 µA impaired coarse orientation discrimination in monkeys. The performance deterioration did not exclusively reflect a general impairment to perform a difficult perceptual task. However, high current (650 µA) but not low-current (100 µA) ES also impaired fine color discrimination. ES of temporal regions dorsal or anterior to PIT produced less impairment of coarse orientation discrimination than ES of PIT. Injections of the GABA agonist muscimol into PIT also impaired performance. These data suggest that the late cortical area PIT is part of the network that supports coarse orientation discrimination of a simple grating stimulus, at least after extensive training in this task at threshold.

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