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Dissecting Neural Circuits for Vision in Nonhuman Primates using fMRI-Guided Electrophysiology and Optogenetics


Ohayon, Shay S. (2014) Dissecting Neural Circuits for Vision in Nonhuman Primates using fMRI-Guided Electrophysiology and Optogenetics. Dissertation (Ph.D.), California Institute of Technology. doi:10.7907/WD1D-W918.


The visual system is a remarkable platform that evolved to solve difficult computational problems such as detection, recognition, and classification of objects. Of great interest is the face-processing network, a sub-system buried deep in the temporal lobe, dedicated for analyzing specific type of objects (faces). In this thesis, I focus on the problem of face detection by the face-processing network. Insights obtained from years of developing computer-vision algorithms to solve this task have suggested that it may be efficiently and effectively solved by detection and integration of local contrast features. Does the brain use a similar strategy? To answer this question, I embark on a journey that takes me through the development and optimization of dedicated tools for targeting and perturbing deep brain structures. Data collected using MR-guided electrophysiology in early face-processing regions was found to have strong selectivity for contrast features, similar to ones used by artificial systems. While individual cells were tuned for only a small subset of features, the population as a whole encoded the full spectrum of features that are predictive to the presence of a face in an image. Together with additional evidence, my results suggest a possible computational mechanism for face detection in early face processing regions. To move from correlation to causation, I focus on adopting an emergent technology for perturbing brain activity using light: optogenetics. While this technique has the potential to overcome problems associated with the de-facto way of brain stimulation (electrical microstimulation), many open questions remain about its applicability and effectiveness for perturbing the non-human primate (NHP) brain. In a set of experiments, I use viral vectors to deliver genetically encoded optogenetic constructs to the frontal eye field and faceselective regions in NHP and examine their effects side-by-side with electrical microstimulation to assess their effectiveness in perturbing neural activity as well as behavior. Results suggest that cells are robustly and strongly modulated upon light delivery and that such perturbation can modulate and even initiate motor behavior, thus, paving the way for future explorations that may apply these tools to study connectivity and information flow in the face processing network.

Item Type:Thesis (Dissertation (Ph.D.))
Subject Keywords:Optogenetics, Face detection, Non-human primates, electrophysiology, MRI, fMRI,
Degree Grantor:California Institute of Technology
Division:Biology and Biological Engineering
Major Option:Computation and Neural Systems
Thesis Availability:Public (worldwide access)
Research Advisor(s):
  • Tsao, Doris Y.
Thesis Committee:
  • Perona, Pietro (chair)
  • Anderson, David J.
  • Andersen, Richard A.
  • Tsao, Doris Y.
Defense Date:15 May 2014
Non-Caltech Author Email:shay.ohayon (AT)
Record Number:CaltechTHESIS:05162014-072424521
Persistent URL:
Default Usage Policy:No commercial reproduction, distribution, display or performance rights in this work are provided.
ID Code:8238
Deposited By: Shay Ohayon
Deposited On:20 May 2014 16:50
Last Modified:04 Oct 2019 00:04

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