Thursday, October 11, 2007

Recent History of Stimulus Speeds Affects the Speed Tuning of Neurons in Area MT

Anja Schlack, Bart Krekelberg, Thomas D. Albright
The Journal of Neuroscience, October 10, 2007, 27(41):11009-11018

Visual motion processing plays a key role in enabling primates' successful interaction with their dynamic environments. Although in natural environments the speed of visual stimuli continuously varies, speed tuning of neurons in the prototypical motion area MT has traditionally been assessed with stimuli that moved at constant speeds. We investigated whether the representation of speed in a continuously varying stimulus context differs from the representation of constant speeds. We recorded from individual MT neurons of fixating macaques while stimuli moved either at a constant speed or in a linearly accelerating or decelerating manner. We found clear speed tuning even when the stimulus consisted of visual motion with gradual speed changes. There were, however, important differences with the speed tuning as measured with constant stimuli: the stimulus context affected neuronal preferred speed as well as the associated tuning width of the speed tuning curves. These acceleration-dependent changes in response lead to an accurate representation of the acceleration of these stimuli in the MT cells. To elucidate the mechanistic basis of this signal, we constructed a stochastic firing rate model based on the constant speed response profiles. This model incorporated each cell's speed tuning and response adaptation dynamics and accurately predicted the response to constant speeds as well as accelerating and decelerating stimuli. Because the response of the model neurons had no explicit acceleration dependence, we conclude that speed-dependent adaptation creates a strong influence of temporal context on the MT response and thereby results in the representation of acceleration signals.

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