Colour tuning in human visual cortex measured with functional magnetic resonance imaging

Stephen Engel, Xuemei Zhang, Brian Wandell

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

299 Scopus citations


The primate retina contains three classes of cones, the L, M and S cones, which respond preferentially to long-, middle- and short-wavelength visible light, respectively. Colour appearance results from neural processing of these cone signals within the retina and the brain. Perceptual experiments have identified three types of neural pathways that represent colour: a red- green pathway that signals differences between L- and M-cone responses; a blue-yellow pathway that signals differences between S-cone responses and a sum of L- and M-cone responses; and a luminance pathway that signals a sum of L- and M-cone responses. It might be expected that there are neurons in the primary visual cortex with response properties that resemble these three perceptual pathways, but attempts to find them have led to inconsistent results. We have therefore used functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) to examine responses in the human brain to a large number of colours. In visual cortical areas V1 and V2, the strongest response is to red-green stimuli, and much of this activity is from neurons receiving opposing inputs from L and M cones. A strong response is also seen with blue-yellow stimuli, and this response declines rapidly as the temporal frequency of the stimulus is increased. These responses resemble psychophysical measurements, suggesting that colour signals relevant for perception are encoded in a large population of neurons in areas V1 and V2.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)68-71
Number of pages4
Issue number6637
StatePublished - 1997
Externally publishedYes


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