Mechanisms of direction selectivity in cat primary visual cortex as revealed by visual adaptation

Nicholas J. Priebe, Ilan Lampl, David Ferster

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

17 Scopus citations


In contrast to neurons of the lateral geniculate nucleus (LGN), neurons in the primary visual cortex (V1) are selective for the direction of visual motion. Cortical direction selectivity could emerge from the spatiotemporal configuration of inputs from thalamic cells, from intracortical inhibitory interactions, or from a combination of thalamic and intracortical interactions. To distinguish between these possibilities, we studied the effect of adaptation (prolonged visual stimulation) on the direction selectivity of intracellularly recorded cortical neurons. It is known that adaptation selectively reduces the responses of cortical neurons, while largely sparing the afferent LGN input. Adaptation can therefore be used as a tool to dissect the relative contribution of afferent and intracortical interactions to the generation of direction selectivity. In both simple and complex cells, adaptation caused a hyperpolarization of the resting membrane potential (-2.5 mV, simple cells, -0.95 mV complex cells). In simple cells, adaptation in either direction only slightly reduced the visually evoked depolarization; this reduction was similar for preferred and null directions. In complex cells, adaptation strongly reduced visual responses in a direction-dependent manner: the reduction was largest when the stimulus direction matched that of the adapting motion. As a result, adaptation caused changes in the direction selectivity of complex cells: direction selectivity was reduced after preferred direction adaptation and increased after null direction adaptation. Because adaptation in the null direction enhanced direction selectivity rather than reduced it, it seems unlikely that inhibition from the null direction is the primary mechanism for creating direction selectivity.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)2615-2623
Number of pages9
JournalJournal of neurophysiology
Issue number5
StatePublished - Nov 2010

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Physiology
  • General Neuroscience


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