Purpose: In patients with central visual field scotomata, a large part of visual cortex is not adequately stimulated. Patients often use a new eccentric fixation area on intact peripheral retina (“preferred retinal locus”—PRL) that functions as a pseudo-fovea. We used functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) to examine whether stimulating this pseudo-fovea leads to increased activation or altered activation patterns in visual cortex in comparison to stimulating a comparable peripheral area in the opposite hemifield (OppPRL).
Methods: Nineteen patients with binocular central scotomata caused by hereditary retinal dystrophies and an age-matched control group were tested. The center of the visual field, PRL, and OppPRL were stimulated with flickering checkerboard stimuli and object pictures during fMRI measurement.
Results: Results show that stimulation with pictures of everyday objects led to overall larger BOLD (blood oxygen level dependent) responses in visual cortex compared to that evoked by stimulation with flickering checkerboards. Patients showed this enhancement as early as in V1. When the PRL was directly stimulated with object pictures, the central representation area in early visual cortex was coactivated in the patients but not in the controls. In higher visual areas beyond retinotopic cortex, BOLD responses to stimulation of the PRL with object pictures were significantly enhanced in comparison to stimulation of the OppPRL area. Highly stable eccentric fixation with the PRL was associated with a higher BOLD signal in visual cortex in patients, and this effect was most pronounced in the conditions with object picture stimulation.
Conclusions: The observed results suggest that naturalistic images are more likely to trigger top-down processes that regulate activation in early visual cortex in patients with central vision loss.
Institute of Psychology, University of Regensburg, Regensburg, Germany (TP, JF, MWG); and Department of Ophthalmology, University Medical Center Regensburg, Regensburg, Germany (SB-R, ABR, HJ).
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Tina Plank, Institut für Psychologie, Universität Regensburg, Universitätsstr 31, 93053 Regensburg, Germany, e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org