Degradation of neural representations in higher visual cortex by sleep deprivation.
A night of total sleep deprivation (TSD) impairs selective attention and is accompanied by attenuated activation within ventral visual cortex (VVC). However, finer details of how TSD compromises selectivity of visual processing remain unclear. Drawing from prior work in cognitive aging, we predicted that TSD would result in dedifferentiation of neural responses for faces and houses within the VVC. Instead, we found preservation of category selectivity. This was observed both in voxels highly selective for each category, and also across multiple voxels evaluated using MVPA. Based on prior findings of impaired attentional modulation following TSD, we also predicted reduced biasing of neural representations towards the attended category when participants viewed ambiguous face/house images. When participants were well rested, attention to houses (or faces) caused activation patterns to more closely resemble those elicited by isolated house (face) images than face (house) images. During TSD, attention to faces enhanced neural similarity to both target (face) and distractor (house) representations, signifying reduced suppression of irrelevant information. Degraded sensory processing reflected in reduced VVC activation following TSD, thus appears to be a result of impaired top-down modulation of sensory representations instead of degraded selectivity of maximally category sensitive voxels, or the dedifferentiation of neural activation patterns.