Linear and nonlinear contributions to orientation tuning of simple cells in the cat's striate cortex

Citation Info

Justin L. Gardner, Akiyuki Anzai, Izumi Ohzawa, and Ralph D. Freeman (1999)
Linear and nonlinear contributions to orientation tuning of simple cells in the cat's striate cortex.
Visual Neuroscience 16: 1115-1121.
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Orientation selectivity is one of the most conspicuous receptive-field (RF) properties that distinguishes neurons in the striate cortex from those in the lateral geniculate nucleus (LGN). It has been suggested that orientation selectivity arises from an elongated array of feedforward LGN inputs (Hubel Wiesel, 1962). Others have argued that cortical mechanisms underlie orientation selectivity (e.g. Sillito, 1975; Somers et al., 1995). However, isolation of each mechanism is experimentally difficult and no single study has analyzed both processes simultaneously to address their relative roles. An alternative approach, which we have employed in this study, is to examine the relative contributions of linear and nonlinear mechanisms in sharpening orientation tuning. Since the input stage of simple cells is remarkably linear, the nonlinear contribution can be attributed solely to cortical factors. Therefore, if the nonlinear component is substantial compared to the linear contribution, it can be concluded that cortical factors play a prominent role in sharpening orientation tuning. To obtain the linear contribution, we first measure RF profiles of simple cells in the cat's striate cortex using a binary m-sequence noise stimulus. Then, based on linear spatial summation of the RF profile, we obtain a predicted orientation-tuning curve, which represents the linear contribution. The nonlinear contribution is estimated as the difference between the predicted tuning curve and that measured with drifting sinusoidal gratings. We find that measured tuning curves are generally more sharply tuned for orientation than predicted curves, which indicates that the linear mechanism is not enough to account for the sharpness of orientation-tuning. Therefore, cortical factors must play an important role in sharpening orientation tuning of simple cells. We also examine the relationship of RF shape (subregion aspect ratio) and size (subregion length and width) to orientation-tuning halfwidth. As expected, predicted tuning halfwidths are found to depend strongly on both subregion length and subregion aspect ratio. However, we find that measured tuning halfwidths show only a weak correlation with subregion aspect ratio, and no significant correlation with RF length and width. These results suggest that cortical mechanisms not only serve to sharpen orientation tuning, but also serve to make orientation tuning less dependent on the size and shape of the RF. This ensures that orientation is represented equally well regardless of RF size and shape.