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Published April 22, 2021 | Submitted
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The neural code for face memory


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.

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.

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Submitted - 2021.03.12.435023v2.full.pdf


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August 22, 2023
December 22, 2023