Geospatial statistics of high field functional MRI reveals topographical clustering for binocular stereo depth in early visual cortex
Parker AJ., Coullon GSL., Sanchez-Panchuelo RM., Francis ST., Clare S., Kay DA., Duff EP., Minini L., Jbabdi S., Schluppeck D., Bridge H.
<jats:sec><jats:title>Significance statement</jats:title><jats:p>Functional topography is present throughout the cerebral cortex, often in the form of columns or clusters of neurons with similar functional properties within identified cortical regions. Most of the evidence for these structures comes from work with non-human species. Using high-field strength magnetic resonance imaging in living human cortex, the search for this structure is frustrated by the presence of a background of local spatial correlations in the signal across the cortical surface. This structured background, which we term ‘neural dust’, is a form of noise that imposes a fundamental limit on the detection of clustering and topography. We apply a novel analysis approach that quantifies the background of spatial correlations, so that we achieve reliable identification of high-signal clusters of activation in the human cortex at a scale previously only visible with invasive optical imaging in animals. We searched specifically in visual cortex for correlates of binocular stereoscopic depth. We show both that signals for stereoscopic depth are clustered into specific zones within the cortex and that these signals occur within spatially extended cortical domains, which have similar preferences for the stereoscopic depth. The revealed structures are reliably identified in all subjects tested and in repeated testing of individual subjects. Our methods provide an objective approach for defining the size and locations of clusters of activation within functional images of neural activity.</jats:p></jats:sec><jats:sec><jats:title>Abstract</jats:title><jats:p>A characteristic principle of the organization of cerebral neocortex is the presence of clusters or columns of neurons with similar functional properties. Animals with forward-facing eyes exploit slight differences between the images in the two eyes to determine binocular depth using stereopsis. Evidence for an organized structure in human visual cortex for the representation of stereoscopic depth has proved elusive. Using 7-tesla functional MRI, with gradient-echo echo-planar imaging at 0.75 mm isotropic resolution and a novel analytical approach based on geospatial mapping methods, we find that clustered responses for disparity-defined depth can be clearly segregated from a background of spatially correlated signals in all subjects tested. High-signal clusters are associated with cortical domains as large as 12-15mm across the cortical surface, in which nearby points in the cortical map tend to respond to the same stereoscopic depth. These domains are found predominantly within visual cortical area V3A.</jats:p></jats:sec>