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Activity patterns in the category-selective occipitotemporal cortex predict upcoming motor actions

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Abstract

Converging lines of evidence point to the occipitotemporal cortex (OTC) as a critical structure in visual perception. For instance, human functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) has revealed a modular organisation of object-selective, face-selective, body-selective and scene-selective visual areas in the OTC, and disruptions to the processing within these regions, either in neuropsychological patients or through transcranial magnetic stimulation, can produce category-specific deficits in visual recognition. Here we show, using fMRI and pattern classification methods, that the activity in the OTC also represents how stimuli will be interacted with by the body – a level of processing more traditionally associated with the preparatory activity in sensorimotor circuits of the brain. Combining functional mapping of different OTC areas with a real object-directed delayed movement task, we found that the pre-movement spatial activity patterns across the OTC could be used to predict both the action of an upcoming hand movement (grasping vs. reaching) and the effector (left hand vs. right hand) to be used. Interestingly, we were able to extract this wide range of predictive movement information even though nearly all OTC areas showed either baseline-level or below baseline-level activity prior to action onset. Our characterisation of different OTC areas according to the features of upcoming movements that they could predict also revealed a general gradient of effector-to-action-dependent movement representations along the posterior–anterior OTC axis. These findings suggest that the ventral visual pathway, which is well known to be involved in object recognition and perceptual processing, plays a larger than previously expected role in preparing object-directed hand actions.

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