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Research Article

The Role of Gamma-Band Activity in the Representation of Faces: Reduced Activity in the Fusiform Face Area in Congenital Prosopagnosia


BackgroundCongenital prosopagnosia (CP) describes an impairment in face processing that is presumably present from birth. The neuronal correlates of this dysfunction are still under debate. In the current paper, we investigate high-frequent oscillatory activity in response to faces in persons with CP. Such neuronal activity is thought to reflect higher-level representations for faces.MethodologySource localization of induced Gamma-Band Responses (iGBR) measured by magnetoencephalography (MEG) was used to establish the origin of oscillatory activity in response to famous and unknown faces which were presented in upright and inverted orientation. Persons suffering from congenital prosopagnosia (CP) were compared to matched controls.Principal FindingsCorroborating earlier research, both groups revealed amplified iGBR in response to upright compared to inverted faces predominately in a time interval between 170 and 330 ms and in a frequency range from 50–100 Hz. Oscillatory activity upon known faces was smaller in comparison to unknown faces, suggesting a “sharpening” effect reflecting more efficient processing for familiar stimuli. These effects were seen in a wide cortical network encompassing temporal and parietal areas involved in the disambiguation of homogenous stimuli such as faces, and in the retrieval of semantic information. Importantly, participants suffering from CP displayed a strongly reduced iGBR in the left fusiform area compared to control participants.ConclusionsIn sum, these data stress the crucial role of oscillatory activity for face representation and demonstrate the involvement of a distributed occipito-temporo-parietal network in generating iGBR. This study also provides the first evidence that persons suffering from an agnosia actually display reduced gamma band activity. Finally, the results argue strongly against the view that oscillatory activity is a mere epiphenomenon brought fourth by rapid eye-movements (micro saccades).