Learning of goal-relevant and -irrelevant complex visual sequences in human V1

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Learning and memory are supported by a network involving the medial temporal lobe and linked neocortical regions. Emerging evidence indicates that primary visual cortex (i.e., V1) may contribute to recognition memory, but this has been tested only with a single visuospatial sequence as the target memorandum. The present study used functional magnetic resonance imaging to investigate whether human V1 can support the learning of multiple, concurrent complex visual sequences involving discontinous (second-order) associations. Two peripheral, goal-irrelevant but structured sequences of orientated gratings appeared simultaneously in fixed locations of the right and left visual fields alongside a central, goal-relevant sequence that was in the focus of spatial attention. Pseudorandom sequences were introduced at multiple intervals during the presentation of the three structured visual sequences to provide an online measure of sequence-specific knowledge at each retinotopic location. We found that a network involving the precuneus and V1 was involved in learning the structured sequence presented at central fixation, whereas right V1 was modulated by repeated exposure to the concurrent structured sequence presented in the left visual field. The same result was not found in left V1. These results indicate for the first time that human V1 can support the learning of multiple concurrent sequences involving complex discontinuous inter-item associations, even peripheral sequences that are goal-irrelevant.

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