The Anterior Temporal Face Area Contains Invariant Representations of Face Identity That Can Persist Despite the Loss of Right FFA and OFA

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Macaque neurophysiology found image-invariant representations of face identity in a face-selective patch in anterior temporal cortex. A face-selective area in human anterior temporal lobe (fATL) has been reported, but has not been reliably identified, and its function and relationship with posterior face areas is poorly understood. Here, we used fMRI adaptation and neuropsychology to ask whether fATL contains image-invariant representations of face identity, and if so, whether these representations require normal functioning of fusiform face area (FFA) and occipital face area (OFA). We first used a dynamic localizer to demonstrate that 14 of 16 normal subjects exhibit a highly selective right fATL. Next, we found evidence that this area subserves image-invariant representation of identity: Right fATL showed repetition suppression to the same identity across different images, while other areas did not. Finally, to examine fATL's relationship with posterior areas, we used the same procedures with Galen, an acquired prosopagnosic who lost right FFA and OFA. Despite the absence of posterior face areas, Galen's right fATL preserved its face selectivity and showed repetition suppression comparable to that in controls. Our findings suggest that right fATL contains image-invariant face representations that can persist despite the absence of right FFA and OFA, but these representations are not sufficient for normal face recognition.

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