Selective adaptation to color contrast in human primary visual cortex

Stephen A. Engel, Christopher S. Furmanski

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

80 Scopus citations


How neural activity produces our experience of color is controversial, because key behavioral results remain at odds with existing physiological data. One important, unexplained property of perception is selective adaptation to color contrast. Prolonged viewing of colored patterns reduces the perceived intensity of similarly colored patterns but leaves other patterns relatively unaffected. We measured the neural basis of this effect using functional magnetic resonance imaging. Subjects viewed low-contrast test gratings that were either red-green (equal and opposite long- and middle-wavelength cone contrast, L-M) or light-dark (equal, same-sign, long- and middle-wavelength cone contrast, L+M). The two types of test gratings generated approximately equal amounts of neural activity in primary visual cortex (V1) before adaptation. After exposure to high-contrast L-M stimuli, the L-M test grating generated less activity in V1 than the L+M grating. Similarly, after adaptation to a high-contrast L+M grating, the L+M test grating generated less activity than the L-M test grating. Behavioral measures of adaptation using the same stimuli showed a similar pattern of results. Our data suggest that primary visual cortex contains large populations of color-selective neurons that can independently adjust their responsiveness after adaptation. The activity of these neural populations showed effects of adaptation that closely matched perceptual experience.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)3949-3954
Number of pages6
JournalJournal of Neuroscience
Issue number11
StatePublished - Jun 1 2001
Externally publishedYes

Bibliographical note

Copyright 2020 Elsevier B.V., All rights reserved.


  • Adaptation
  • Color opponency
  • Color vision
  • Functional MRI
  • Primary visual cortex
  • V1


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