Increase in MST activity correlates with visual motion learning: A functional MRI study of perceptual learning.
Larcombe SJ., Kennard C., Bridge H.
Repeated practice of a specific task can improve visual performance, but the neural mechanisms underlying this improvement in performance are not yet well understood. Here we trained healthy participants on a visual motion task daily for 5 days in one visual hemifield. Before and after training, we used functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) to measure the change in neural activity. We also imaged a control group of participants on two occasions who did not receive any task training. While in the MRI scanner, all participants completed the motion task in the trained and untrained visual hemifields separately. Following training, participants improved their ability to discriminate motion direction in the trained hemifield and, to a lesser extent, in the untrained hemifield. The amount of task learning correlated positively with the change in activity in the medial superior temporal (MST) area. MST is the anterior portion of the human motion complex (hMT+). MST changes were localized to the hemisphere contralateral to the region of the visual field, where perceptual training was delivered. Visual areas V2 and V3a showed an increase in activity between the first and second scan in the training group, but this was not correlated with performance. The contralateral anterior hippocampus and bilateral dorsolateral prefrontal cortex (DLPFC) and frontal pole showed changes in neural activity that also correlated with the amount of task learning. These findings emphasize the importance of MST in perceptual learning of a visual motion task. Hum Brain Mapp 39:145-156, 2018. © 2017 Wiley Periodicals, Inc.