Neural mechanisms of orientation selectivity in the visual cortex

Annu Rev Neurosci. 2000;23:441-71. doi: 10.1146/annurev.neuro.23.1.441.


The origin of orientation selectivity in the responses of simple cells in cat visual cortex serves as a model problem for understanding cortical circuitry and computation. The feed-forward model posits that this selectivity arises simply from the arrangement of thalamic inputs to a simple cell. Much evidence, including a number of recent intracellular studies, supports a primary role of the thalamic inputs in determining simple cell response properties, including orientation tuning. This mechanism alone, however, cannot explain the invariance of orientation tuning to changes in stimulus contrast. Simple cells receive push-pull inhibition: ON inhibition in OFF subregions and vice versa. Addition of such inhibition to the feed-forward model can account for this contrast invariance, provided the inhibition is sufficiently strong. The predictions of "normalization" and "feedback" models are reviewed and compared with the predictions of this modified feed-forward model and with experimental results. The modified feed-forward and the feedback models ascribe fundamentally different functions to cortical processing.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Feedback
  • Geniculate Bodies / physiology
  • Models, Neurological
  • Neural Inhibition / physiology
  • Neurons / physiology
  • Orientation / physiology*
  • Synapses / physiology
  • Visual Cortex / physiology*
  • Visual Pathways / physiology