Task Dependence of Visual and Category Representations in Prefrontal and Inferior Temporal Cortices
Jillian L. McKee, Maximilian Riesenhuber, Earl K. Miller, and David J. Freedman

Visual categorization is an essential perceptual and cognitive process for assigning behavioral significance to incoming stimuli. Categorization depends on sensory processing of stimulus features as well as flexible cognitive processing for classifying stimuli according to the current behavioral context. Neurophysiological studies suggest that the prefrontal cortex (PFC) and the inferior temporal cortex (ITC) are involved in visual shape categorization. However, their precise roles in the perceptual and cognitive aspects of the categorization process are unclear, as the two areas have not been directly compared during changing task contexts. To address this, we examined the impact of task relevance on categorization-related activity in PFC and ITC by recording from both areas as monkeys alternated between a shape categorization and passive viewing tasks. As monkeys viewed the same stimuli in both tasks, the impact of task relevance on encoding in each area could be compared. While both areas showed task-dependent modulations of neuronal activity, the patterns of results differed markedly. PFC, but not ITC, neurons showed a modest increase in firing rates when stimuli were task relevant. PFC also showed significantly stronger category selectivity during the task compared with passive viewing, while task-dependent modulations of category selectivity in ITC were weak and occurred with a long latency. Finally, both areas showed an enhancement of stimulus selectivity during the task compared with passive viewing. Together, this suggests that the ITC and PFC show differing degrees of task-dependent flexibility and are preferentially involved in the perceptual and cognitive aspects of the categorization process, respectively.

Max Riesenhuber and colleagues used EEG to examine the time course of shape and category signals in the human brain.  Neural adaptation for category changes was seen in frontal cortex and then subsequently in temporal cortex.  This supports the hypothesis that shape categories are formed by shape signals from temporal cortex that converge and form explicit category representations in frontal cortex.  A late category signal in temporal cortex is consistent with category signals feeding back from frontal to temporal cortex.