Saturday, April 7, 2007

Context-dependent perceptual modulation of single neurons in primate visual cortex

Alexander Maier, Nikos K. Logothetis, David A. Leopold
Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2007 March 27; 104(13): 5620–5625.

Some neurons in the visual cortex alter their spiking rate according to the perceptual interpretation of an observed stimulus, rather than its physical structure alone. Experiments in monkeys have suggested that, although the proportion of neurons showing this effect differs greatly between cortical areas, this proportion remains similar across different stimuli. These findings have raised the intriguing questions of whether the same neurons always participate in the disambiguation of sensory patterns and whether such neurons might represent a special class of cortical cells that relay perceptual signals to higher cortical areas. Here we explore this question by measuring activity in the middle temporal cortex of monkeys and asking to what degree the percept-related responses of individual neurons depend upon the specific sensory input. In contrast to our expectations, we found that even small differences in the stimuli led to significant changes in the signaling of the perceptual state by single neurons. We conclude that nearly all feature-responsive neurons in this area, rather than a select subset, can contribute to the resolution of sensory conflict, and that the role of individual cells in signaling the perceptual outcome is tightly linked to the fine details of the stimuli involved.

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