Encoding of facial features by single neurons in the human amygdala and hippocampus

Runnan Cao, Xin Li, Nicholas J. Brandmeir, Shuo Wang

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

17 Scopus citations


Faces are salient social stimuli that attract a stereotypical pattern of eye movement. The human amygdala and hippocampus are involved in various aspects of face processing; however, it remains unclear how they encode the content of fixations when viewing faces. To answer this question, we employed single-neuron recordings with simultaneous eye tracking when participants viewed natural face stimuli. We found a class of neurons in the human amygdala and hippocampus that encoded salient facial features such as the eyes and mouth. With a control experiment using non-face stimuli, we further showed that feature selectivity was specific to faces. We also found another population of neurons that differentiated saccades to the eyes vs. the mouth. Population decoding confirmed our results and further revealed the temporal dynamics of face feature coding. Interestingly, we found that the amygdala and hippocampus played different roles in encoding facial features. Lastly, we revealed two functional roles of feature-selective neurons: 1) they encoded the salient region for face recognition, and 2) they were related to perceived social trait judgments. Together, our results link eye movement with neural face processing and provide important mechanistic insights for human face perception.

Original languageEnglish
Article number1394
JournalCommunications Biology
Issue number1
StatePublished - Dec 2021


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