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Adriana Fiorentini (1/11/1926 - 29/2/2016)

Adriana Fiorentini passed away peacefully in her sleep last Monday. Adriana was an inspirational pillar of the Pisa Vision Laboratory and leading international visual scientist for over half a century. She was well loved by all her colleagues and students who had the privilege to work with and learn from her. We will miss her.


New Research published in Current Opinion in Behavioral Sciences

Congratulations to David who published a new paper on Current Opinion in Behavioral Sciences!

Shi, Z. & Burr, D. (2016). Predictive coding of multisensory timing, Current Opinion in Behavioral Sciences, (8), 200-206. PDF

The sense of time is foundational for perception and action, yet it frequently departs significantly from physical time. In the paper we review recent progress on temporal contextual effects, multisensory temporal integration, temporal recalibration, and related computational models. We suggest that subjective time arises from minimizing prediction errors and adaptive recalibration, which can be unified in the framework of predictive coding, a framework rooted in Helmholtz's ‘perception as inference’.


New Research published in Scientific Reports

Congratulations to Marco and David who published a new paper on Scientific Reports!

Turi, M., Karaminis, T., Pellicano, E. & Burr, D. (2016). No rapid audiovisual recalibration in adults on the autism spectrum, Scientific Reports, (6), 21756. PDF

Autism spectrum disorders (ASD) are characterized by difficulties in social cognition, but are also associated with atypicalities in sensory and perceptual processing. Several groups have reported that autistic individuals show reduced integration of socially relevant audiovisual signals, which may contribute to the higher-order social and cognitive difficulties observed in autism. Here we use a newly devised technique to study instantaneous adaptation to audiovisual asynchrony in autism. Autistic and typical participants were presented with sequences of brief visual and auditory stimuli, varying in asynchrony over a wide range, from 512?ms auditory-lead to 512?ms auditory-lag, and judged whether they seemed to be synchronous. Typical adults showed strong adaptation effects, with trials proceeded by an auditory-lead needing more auditory-lead to seem simultaneous, and vice versa. However, autistic observers showed little or no adaptation, although their simultaneity curves were as narrow as the typical adults. This result supports recent Bayesian models that predict reduced adaptation effects in autism. As rapid audiovisual recalibration may be fundamental for the optimisation of speech comprehension, recalibration problems could render language processing more difficult in autistic individuals, hindering social communication.


New Research published in Current Biology

Congratulations to Claudia who managed to publish yet another original research paper on Current Biology!

Lunghi, C. & Sale, A. (2015). A cycling lane for brain rewiring, Curr Biol, 23 (25), R1122-R1123. PDF

Brain plasticity, defined as the capability of cerebral neurons to change in response to experience, is fundamental for behavioral adaptability, learning, memory, functional development, and neural repair. The visual cortex is a widely used model for studying neuroplasticity and the underlying mechanisms. Plasticity is maximal in early development, within the so-called critical period, while its levels abruptly decline in adulthood [1]. Recent studies, however, have revealed a significant residual plastic potential of the adult visual cortex by showing that, in adult humans, short-term monocular deprivation alters ocular dominance by homeostatically boosting responses to the deprived eye [2-4]. In animal models, a reopening of critical period plasticity in the adult primary visual cortex has been obtained by a variety of environmental manipulations, such as dark exposure, or environmental enrichment, together with its critical component of enhanced physical exercise [5-8]. Among these non-invasive procedures, physical exercise emerges as particularly interesting for its potential of application to clinics, though there has been a lack of experimental evidence available that physical exercise actually promotes visual plasticity in humans. Here we report that short-term homeostatic plasticity of the adult human visual cortex induced by transient monocular deprivation is potently boosted by moderate levels of voluntary physical activity. These findings could have a bearing in orienting future research in the field of physical activity application to clinical research.

The ratio between the mean phase duration of the deprived and that of the non-deprived eye plotted as a function of time from removal of the eye-patch. From Lunghi & Sale, 2015.

New Research published in Journal of Physiology

Congratulations to Claudia and Maria Concetta, whose work has been published on Journal of Physiology and is the issue's cover article!

Lunghi, C., Berchicci, M., Morrone, M. C. & Di Russo, F. (2015). Short-term monocular deprivation alters early components of visual evoked potentials, J Physiol, 19 (593), 4361-4372. PDF

Very little is known about plasticity in the adult visual cortex. In recent years psychophysical studies have shown that short-term monocular deprivation alters visual perception in adult humans. Specifically, after 150 min of monocular deprivation the deprived eye strongly dominates the dynamics of binocular rivalry, reflecting homeostatic plasticity. Here we investigate the neural mechanisms underlying this form of short-term visual cortical plasticity by measuring visual evoked potentials (VEPs) on the scalp of adult humans during monocular stimulation before and after 150 min of monocular deprivation. We found that monocular deprivation had opposite effects on the amplitude of the earliest component of the VEP (C1) for the deprived and non-deprived eye stimulation. C1 amplitude increased (+66%) for the deprived eye, while it decreased (-29%) for the non-deprived eye. Source localization analysis confirmed that the C1 originates in the primary visual cortex. We further report that following monocular deprivation, the amplitude of the peak of the evoked alpha spectrum increased on average by 23% for the deprived eye and decreased on average by 10% for the non-deprived eye, indicating a change in cortical excitability. These results indicate that a brief period of monocular deprivation alters interocular balance in the primary visual cortex of adult humans by both boosting the activity of the deprived eye and reducing the activity of the non-deprived eye. This indicates a high level of residual homeostatic plasticity in the adult human primary visual cortex, probably mediated by a change in cortical excitability.

Cover image for Journal of Physiology Volume 593, Issue 19

New Research

It has been a productive autumn for sure! Congratulations to Concetta, Sofia, Michele, Paola, Giovanni, Marco and David!

Biagi, L., Crespi, S. A., Tosetti, M. & Morrone, M. C. (2015). BOLD Response Selective to Flow-Motion in Very Young Infants, PLoS Biol, 9 (13), e1002260. PDF

In adults, motion perception is mediated by an extensive network of occipital, parietal, temporal, and insular cortical areas. Little is known about the neural substrate of visual motion in infants, although behavioural studies suggest that motion perception is rudimentary at birth and matures steadily over the first few years. Here, by measuring Blood Oxygenated Level Dependent (BOLD) responses to flow versus random-motion stimuli, we demonstrate that the major cortical areas serving motion processing in adults are operative by 7 wk of age. Resting-state correlations demonstrate adult-like functional connectivity between the motion-selective associative areas, but not between primary cortex and temporo-occipital and posterior-insular cortices. Taken together, the results suggest that the development of motion perception may be limited by slow maturation of the subcortical input and of the cortico-cortical connections. In addition they support the existence of independent input to primary (V1) and temporo-occipital (V5/MT+) cortices very early in life.

Fornaciai, M. & Binda, P. (2015). Effect of saccade automaticity on perisaccadic space compression, Front Syst Neurosci, (9), 127. PDF

Briefly presented stimuli occurring just before or during a saccadic eye movement are mislocalized, leading to a compression of visual space toward the target of the saccade. In most cases this has been measured in subjects over-trained to perform a stereotyped and unnatural task where saccades are repeatedly driven to the same location, marked by a highly salient abrupt onset. Here, we asked to what extent the pattern of perisaccadic mislocalization depends on this specific context. We addressed this question by studying perisaccadic localization in a set of participants with no prior experience in eye-movement research, measuring localization performance as they practiced the saccade task. Localization was marginally affected by practice over the course of the experiment and it was indistinguishable from the performance of expert observers. The mislocalization also remained similar when the expert observers were tested in a condition leading to less stereotypical saccadic behavior-with no abrupt onset marking the saccade target location. These results indicate that perisaccadic compression is a robust behavior, insensitive to the specific paradigm used to drive saccades and to the level of practice with the saccade task.

Anobile, G., Cicchini, G. M. & Burr, D. C. (2015). Number as a primary perceptual attribute: a review, Perception 1-27 DOI: 10.1177/0301006615602599. PDF

Although humans are the only species to possess language-driven abstract mathematical capacities, we share with many other animals a nonverbal capacity for estimating quantities or numerosity. For some time, researchers have clearly differentiated between small numbers of items—less than about four—referred to as the subitizing  range, and larger numbers, where counting or estimation is required. In this review, we examine more recent evidence suggesting a further division, between sets of items greater than the subitizing range, but sparse enough to be individuated as single items; and densely packed stimuli, where they crowd each other into what is betterconsidered as a texture. These two different regimes are psychophysically discriminable in that they follow distinct psychophysical laws and show different dependencies on eccentricity and on luminance levels. But provided the elements are not too crowded (less than about two items per square degree in central vision, less in the periphery), there is little evidence that estimation of numerosity depends on mechanisms responsive to texture. The distinction is important, as the ability to discriminate numerosity, but not texture, correlates with formal maths skills.

New Research in Journal of Vision

Congratulations to Koulla, Marco and David whose latest paper has just been published in Journal of Vision!

Mikellidou, K., Cicchini, G. M., Thompson, P. G. & Burr, D. C. (2015). The oblique effect is both allocentric and egocentric, Journal of Vision, 8 (15), 24-24. PDF

Despite continuous movements of the head, humans maintain a stable representation of the visual world, which seems to remain always upright. The mechanisms behind this stability are largely unknown. To gain some insight on how head tilt affects visual perception, we investigate whether a well-known orientation-dependent visual phenomenon, the oblique effect—superior performance for stimuli at cardinal orientations (0° and 90°) compared with oblique orientations (45°)—is anchored in egocentric or allocentric coordinates. To this aim, we measured orientation discrimination thresholds at various orientations for different head positions both in body upright and in supine positions. We report that, in the body upright position, the oblique effect remains anchored in allocentric coordinates irrespective of head position. When lying supine, gravitational effects in the plane orthogonal to gravity are discounted. Under these conditions, the oblique effect was less marked than when upright, and anchored in egocentric coordinates. The results are well explained by a simple “compulsory fusion” model in which the head-based and the gravity-based signals are combined with different weightings (30% and 70%, respectively), even when this leads to reduced sensitivity in orientation discrimination.

New Research in The Journal of Neuroscience

Congratulations to G.Marco and Concetta whose latest paper has just been published in Journal of Neuroscience!

Cicchini, G. M., Marino, C., Mascheretti, S., Perani, D. & Morrone, M. C. (2015). Strong Motion Deficits in Dyslexia Associated with DCDC2 Gene Alteration, J Neurosci, 21 (35), 8059-8064. PDF

Dyslexia is a specific impairment in reading that affects 1 in 10 people. Previous studies have failed to isolate a single cause of the disorder, but several candidate genes have been reported. We measured motion perception in two groups of dyslexics, with and without a deletion within the DCDC2 gene, a risk gene for dyslexia. We found impairment for motion particularly strong at high spatial frequencies in the population carrying the deletion. The data suggest that deficits in motion processing occur in a specific genotype, rather than the entire dyslexia population, contributing to the large variability in impairment of motion thresholds in dyslexia reported in the literature.

New Research in Beahvior Research Methods

Congratulations to Koulla, Concetta and David whose latest paper has just been published in Behav Res Methods!

Greco, V., Frijia, F., Mikellidou, K., Montanaro, D., Farini, A., D'Uva, M., et al. (2015). A low-cost and versatile system for projecting wide-field visual stimuli within fMRI scanners, Behav Res Methods, PDF

We have constructed and tested a custom-made magnetic-imaging-compatible visual projection system designed to project on a very wide visual field (~80 degrees ). A standard projector was modified with a coupling lens, projecting images into the termination of an image fiber. The other termination of the fiber was placed in the 3-T scanner room with a projection lens, which projected the images relayed by the fiber onto a screen over the head coil, viewed by a participant wearing magnifying goggles. To validate the system, wide-field stimuli were presented in order to identify retinotopic visual areas. The results showed that this low-cost and versatile optical system may be a valuable tool to map visual areas in the brain that process peripheral receptive fields.

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