Imagery neurons in the human brain

Gabriel Kreiman, Christof Koch, Itzhak Fried*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Vivid visual images can be voluntarily generated in our minds in the absence of simultaneous visual input. While trying to count the number of flowers in Van Gogh's Sunflowers, understanding a description or recalling a path, subjects report forming an image in their 'mind's eye'. Whether this process is accomplished by the same neuronal mechanisms as visual perception has long been a matter of debate. Evidence from functional imaging, psychophysics, neurological studies and monkey electrophysiology suggests a common process, yet there are patients with deficits in one but not the other. Here we directly investigated the neuronal substrates of visual recall by recording from single neurons in the human medial temporal lobe while the subjects were asked to imagine previously viewed images. We found single neurons in the hippocampus, amygdala, entorhinal cortex and parahippocampal gyrus that selectively altered their firing rates depending on the stimulus the subjects were imagining. Of the neurons that fired selectively during both vision and imagery, the majority (88%) had identical selectivity. Our study reveals single neuron correlates of volitional visual imagery in humans and suggests a common substrate for the processing of incoming visual information and visual recall.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)357-361
Number of pages5
Issue number6810
StatePublished - 16 Nov 2000
Externally publishedYes


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