Recruitment of foveal retinotopic cortex during haptic exploration of shapes and actions in the dark

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Journal of Neuroscience





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The role of the early visual cortex and higher-order occipitotemporal cortex has been studied extensively for visual recognition and to a lesser degree for haptic recognition and visually guided actions. Using a slow event-related fMRI experiment, we investigated whether tactile and visual exploration of objects recruit the same “visual” areas (and in the case of visual cortex, the same retinotopic zones) and if these areas show reactivation during delayed actions in the dark toward haptically explored objects (and if so, whether this reactivation might be due to imagery). We examined activation during visual or haptic exploration of objects and action execution (grasping or reaching) separated by an 18 s delay. Twenty-nine human volunteers (13 females) participated in this study. Participants had their eyes open and fixated on a point in the dark. The objects were placed below the fixation point and accordingly visual exploration activated the cuneus, which processes retinotopic locations in the lower visual field. Strikingly, the occipital pole (OP), representing foveal locations, showed higher activation for tactile than visual exploration, although the stimulus was unseen and location in the visual field was peripheral. Moreover, the lateral occipital tactile–visual area (LOtv) showed comparable activation for tactile and visual exploration. Psychophysiological interaction analysis indicated that the OP showed stronger functional connectivity with anterior intraparietal sulcus and LOtv during the haptic than visual exploration of shapes in the dark. After the delay, the cuneus, OP, and LOtv showed reactivation that was independent of the sensory modality used to explore the object. These results show that haptic actions not only activate “visual” areas during object touch, but also that this information appears to be used in guiding grasping actions toward targets after a delay.