Spatially congruent negative BOLD responses to different stimuli do not summate in visual cortex

Ross Wilson, Andrea Thomas, Stephen D. Mayhew*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


The negative BOLD response (NBR) is a prevalent feature of brain activity during sensory and cognitive tasks. It is thought to reflect suppression or deactivation of cortical areas unrequired for task performance, but much remains to be understood regarding its response properties and generative pathways. Here we study a unique property of sensory cortex NBR that most distinguishes it from positive BOLD responses (PBR), its appearance in a single location due to different stimuli. We investigate whether such NBR are additive, as a means of studying whether stimulus driven NBR arise via a single or multiple pathways. During fMRI, subject's passively viewed separate checkerboard stimulation of the foveal and middle-eccentricity areas of the left visual field and a third condition that stimulated both areas concurrently. PBR was observed in the contralateral primary visual cortex and NBR was seen throughout the ipsilateral cortex as well as in contralateral regions superior and anterior to the PBR. Strong spatial overlap of NBRs to all three conditions was observed. We found that neither PBR nor NBR were additive. NBR amplitudes to combined stimuli were equal to those of the strongest (foveal) stimulus alone, despite the mid-eccentricity stimulus inducing substantial NBR on its own. The lack of summation of NBRs, both in the same and opposite hemispheres to the PBR, suggests that they arise from a single pathway. Our findings suggest that although individual stimuli each exert a separate inhibitory effect on non-stimulated regions, once in combination these effects operate as a binary system. Deactivation of a given visual area is driven by a single signal, representing only the largest of the contributing sources.

Original languageEnglish
Article number116891
Number of pages10
Early online date11 May 2020
Publication statusPublished - 1 Sept 2020

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