How is color represented by spatially distributed patterns of activity in visual cortex? Functional magnetic resonance imaging responses to several stimulus colors were analyzed with multivariate techniques: conventional pattern classification, a forward model of idealized color tuning, and principal component analysis (PCA). Stimulus color was accurately decoded from activity in V1, V2, V3, V4, and VO1 but not LO1, LO2, V3A/B, or MT+. The conventional classifier and forward model yielded similar accuracies, but the forward model (unlike the classifier) also reliably reconstructed novel stimulus colors not used to train (specify parameters of) the model. The mean responses, averaged across voxels in each visual area, were not reliably distinguishable for the different stimulus colors. Hence, each stimulus color was associated with a unique spatially distributed pattern of activity, presumably reflecting the color selectivity of cortical neurons. Using PCA, a color space was derived from the covariation, across voxels, in the responses to different colors. In V4 and VO1, the first two principal component scores (main source of variation) of the responses revealed a progression through perceptual color space, with perceptually similar colors evoking the most similar responses. This was not the case for any of the other visual cortical areas, including V1, although decoding was most accurate in V1. This dissociation implies a transformation from the color representation in V1 to reflect perceptual color space in V4 and VO1.
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