Dynamics of fMRI patterns reflect sub-second activation sequences and reveal replay in human visual cortex


Neural computations are often fast and anatomically localized. Yet, investigating such computations in humans is challenging because non-invasive methods have either high temporal or spatial resolution, but not both. Of particular relevance, fast neural replay is known to occur throughout the brain in a coordinated fashion about which little is known. We develop a multivariate analysis method for functional magnetic resonance imaging that makes it possible to study sequentially activated neural patterns separated by less than 100 ms with precise spatial resolution. Human participants viewed five images individually and sequentially with speeds up to 32 ms between items. Probabilistic pattern classifiers were trained on activation patterns in visual and ventrotemporal cortex during individual image trials. Applied to sequence trials, probabilistic classifier time courses allow the detection of neural representations and their order. Order detection remains possible at speeds up to 32 ms between items (plus 100 ms per item). The frequency spectrum of the sequentiality metric distinguishes between sub- versus supra-second sequences. Importantly, applied to resting-state data our method reveals fast replay of task-related stimuli in visual cortex. This indicates that non-hippocampal replay occurs even after tasks without memory requirements and shows that our method can be used to detect such spontaneously occurring replay.

Nature Communications