Neuronal responses to face-like stimuli in the monkey pulvinar


Correspondence: Dr H. Nishijo, as above.



The pulvinar nuclei appear to function as the subcortical visual pathway that bypasses the striate cortex, rapidly processing coarse facial information. We investigated responses from monkey pulvinar neurons during a delayed non-matching-to-sample task, in which monkeys were required to discriminate five categories of visual stimuli [photos of faces with different gaze directions, line drawings of faces, face-like patterns (three dark blobs on a bright oval), eye-like patterns and simple geometric patterns]. Of 401 neurons recorded, 165 neurons responded differentially to the visual stimuli. These visual responses were suppressed by scrambling the images. Although these neurons exhibited a broad response latency distribution, face-like patterns elicited responses with the shortest latencies (approximately 50 ms). Multidimensional scaling analysis indicated that the pulvinar neurons could specifically encode face-like patterns during the first 50-ms period after stimulus onset and classify the stimuli into one of the five different categories during the next 50-ms period. The amount of stimulus information conveyed by the pulvinar neurons and the number of stimulus-differentiating neurons were consistently higher during the second 50-ms period than during the first 50-ms period. These results suggest that responsiveness to face-like patterns during the first 50-ms period might be attributed to ascending inputs from the superior colliculus or the retina, while responsiveness to the five different stimulus categories during the second 50-ms period might be mediated by descending inputs from cortical regions. These findings provide neurophysiological evidence for pulvinar involvement in social cognition and, specifically, rapid coarse facial information processing.