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Sensory Modality Specificity Of Neural Activity Related To Memory In Visual Cortex

Jay R. Gibson, John H. R. Maunsell

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Gibson, Jay R. and John H. R. Maunsell. Sensory modality specificity of neural activity related to memory in visual cortex. J. Neurophysiol. 78: 1263–1275, 1997. Previous studies have shown that when monkeys perform a delayed match-to-sample (DMS) task, some neurons in inferotemporal visual cortex are activated selectively during the delay period when the animal must remember particular visual stimuli. This selective delay activity may be involved in short-term memory. It does not depend on visual stimulation: both auditory and tactile stimuli can trigger selective delay activity in inferotemporal cortex when animals expect to respond to visual stimuli in a DMS task. We have examined the overall modality specificity of delay period activity using a variety of auditory/visual cross-modal and unimodal DMS tasks. The cross-modal DMS tasks involved making specific long-term memory associations between visual and auditory stimuli, whereas the unimodal DMS tasks were standard identity matching tasks. Delay activity existed in auditory/visual cross-modal DMS tasks whether the animal anticipated responding to visual or auditory stimuli. No evidence of selective delay period activation was seen in a purely auditory DMS task. Delay-selective cells were relatively common in one animal where they constituted up to 53% neurons tested with a given task. This was only the case for up to 9% of cells in a second animal. In the first animal, a specific long-term memory representation for learned cross-modal associations was observed in delay activity, indicating that this type of representation need not be purely visual. Furthermore, in this same animal, delay activity in one cross-modal task, an auditory-to-visual task, predicted correct and incorrect responses. These results suggest that neurons in inferotemporal cortex contribute to abstract memory representations that can be activated by input from other sensory modalities, but these representations are specific to visual behaviors.