New approach to imaging separates thought from perception

neurobiology and radiology. "Previously, we could determine which brain areas were active during a task but not the order of their activation."

In the published study, volunteers lay in a scanner and watched white dots on a dark screen. The trials began with a fleeting glimpse of an arrow, which indicated that some of the dots would move in a particular direction (cue period). The subjects then had to press a key if they saw dots moving in that direction among dots that were moving in random directions (test period).

The fMRI method was used to separate areas active during the cue period, in which the subjects interpreted and retained the information about the expected direction of movement, from those active during the test period, in which the subjects used this information to recognize coherent movement of dots.

The region that responded most vigorously during the cue period was a visual area toward the back of the brain called the posterior parietal cortex. This region specializes in spatial perception and eye movements. "These and other data indicate that the posterior parietal cortex plays a major role in funneling our expectations into the visual cortex and influencing perception," Corbetta says. "This conclusion is surprising because experiments with monkeys have attributed this function to the brain's frontal lobe."

Scientists have separated expectation from performance in monkeys by recording from individual neurons. But this approach can monitor only a small part of the brain at any time. At the meeting of the Society for Neuroscience, the researchers will discuss their most recent experiments. They have dissected the cue period further by determining which areas are activated briefly -- these might deduce the direction of the arrow -- and which areas become activated long enough to hold the information on-line until the task begins. "We find that the most sustained time course occurs in the posterior parie

Contact: Linda Sage
Washington University School of Medicine

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