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The neural code for face memory

She, Liang and Benna, Marcus K. and Shi, Yuelin and Fusi, Stefano and Tsao, Doris Y. (2021) The neural code for face memory. . (Unpublished)

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The ability to recognize familiar visual objects is critical to survival. A central assumption of neuroscience is that long-term memories are represented by the same brain areas that encode sensory stimuli (1). Neurons in inferotemporal (IT) cortex represent the sensory percept of visual objects using a distributed axis code (2-4). Whether and how the same IT neural population represents the long-term memory of visual objects remains unclear. Here, we examined how familiar faces are encoded in face patch AM and perirhinal cortex. We found that familiar faces were represented in a distinct subspace from unfamiliar faces. The familiar face subspace was shifted relative to the unfamiliar face subspace at short latency and then distorted to increase neural distances between familiar faces at long latency. This distortion enabled markedly improved discrimination of familiar faces in both AM and PR. Inactivation of PR did not affect these memory traces in AM, suggesting that the memory traces arise from intrinsic recurrent processes within IT cortex or interactions with downstream regions outside the medial temporal lobe (5,6). Overall, our results reveal that memories of familiar faces are represented in IT and perirhinal cortex by a distinct long-latency code that is optimized to distinguish familiar identities.

Item Type:Report or Paper (Discussion Paper)
Related URLs:
URLURL TypeDescription Paper
She, Liang0000-0001-8859-4461
Benna, Marcus K.0000-0001-8100-2857
Fusi, Stefano0000-0002-3035-6652
Tsao, Doris Y.0000-0003-1083-1919
Alternate Title:The geometry of face memory
Additional Information:The copyright holder for this preprint is the author/funder, who has granted bioRxiv a license to display the preprint in perpetuity. Version - March 12, 2021; Version 2 - April 22, 2021. This work was supported by NIH (DP1-NS083063, EY030650-01), the Howard Hughes Medical Institute, the Simons Foundation, the Human Frontiers in Science Program, and the Chen Center for Systems Neuroscience at Caltech. SF is supported by the Simons Foundation, the Gatsby Charitable Foundation, the Swartz Foundation, and the NSF’s NeuroNex Program award DBI-1707398. Author contributions: L.S. and D.Y.T. conceived the project and designed the experiments, L.S. and Y.S. collected the data, and L.S. and M.K.B. analyzed the data. L.S., M.K.B., and D.Y.T. interpreted the data and wrote the paper, with feedback from S.F. and Y.S. Authors declare no competing interests. Data and materials availability: All data, code, and materials are available from the lead corresponding author upon reasonable request.
Group:Tianqiao and Chrissy Chen Institute for Neuroscience
Funding AgencyGrant Number
Howard Hughes Medical Institute (HHMI)UNSPECIFIED
Simons FoundationUNSPECIFIED
Human Frontier Science ProgramUNSPECIFIED
Tianqiao and Chrissy Chen Institute for NeuroscienceUNSPECIFIED
Gatsby Charitable FoundationUNSPECIFIED
Swartz FoundationUNSPECIFIED
Subject Keywords:visual memory; face memory; object recognition; familiarity; face patches; inferotemporal cortex; perirhinal cortex; electrophysiology; fMRI; muscimol; generative model; feedback
Record Number:CaltechAUTHORS:20210420-082539204
Persistent URL:
Official Citation:The geometry of face memory. Liang She, Marcus K. Benna, Yuelin Shi, Stefano Fusi, Doris Y. Tsao. bioRxiv 2021.03.12.435023; doi:
Usage Policy:No commercial reproduction, distribution, display or performance rights in this work are provided.
ID Code:108768
Deposited By: Tony Diaz
Deposited On:22 Apr 2021 19:02
Last Modified:16 Nov 2021 19:32

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