Date of Award

Spring 2010

Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Graduate Group


First Advisor

Brian Litt, M.D.

Second Advisor

Leif H. Finkel, M.D., Ph.D.

Third Advisor

Gershon Buchsbaum, Ph.D.


The representation of contour shape is an essential component of object recognition, but the cortical mechanisms underlying it are incompletely understood, leaving it a fundamental open question in neuroscience. Such an understanding would be useful theoretically as well as in developing computer vision and Brain-Computer Interface applications. We ask two fundamental questions: “How is contour shape represented in cortex and how can neural models and computer vision algorithms more closely approximate this?” We begin by analyzing the statistics of contour curvature variation and develop a measure of salience based upon the arc length over which it remains within a constrained range. We create a population of V4-like cells – responsive to a particular local contour conformation located at a specific position on an object’s boundary – and demonstrate high recognition accuracies classifying handwritten digits in the MNIST database and objects in the MPEG-7 Shape Silhouette database. We compare the performance of the cells to the “shape-context” representation (Belongie et al., 2002) and achieve roughly comparable recognition accuracies using a small test set. We analyze the relative contributions of various feature sensitivities to recognition accuracy and robustness to noise. Local curvature appears to be the most informative for shape recognition. We create a population of IT-like cells, which integrate specific information about the 2-D boundary shapes of multiple contour fragments, and evaluate its performance on a set of real images as a function of the V4 cell inputs. We determine the sub-population of cells that are most effective at identifying a particular category. We classify based upon cell population response and obtain very good results. We use the Morris-Lecar neuronal model to more realistically illustrate the previously explored shape representation pathway in V4 – IT. We demonstrate recognition using spatiotemporal patterns within a winnerless competition network with FitzHugh-Nagumo model neurons. Finally, we use the Izhikevich neuronal model to produce an enhanced response in IT, correlated with recognition, via gamma synchronization in V4. Our results support the hypothesis that the response properties of V4 and IT cells, as well as our computer models of them, function as robust shape descriptors in the object recognition process.

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