Small modulation of ongoing cortical dynamics by sensory input during natural vision

Nature. 2004 Sep 30;431(7008):573-8. doi: 10.1038/nature02907.


During vision, it is believed that neural activity in the primary visual cortex is predominantly driven by sensory input from the environment. However, visual cortical neurons respond to repeated presentations of the same stimulus with a high degree of variability. Although this variability has been considered to be noise owing to random spontaneous activity within the cortex, recent studies show that spontaneous activity has a highly coherent spatio-temporal structure. This raises the possibility that the pattern of this spontaneous activity may shape neural responses during natural viewing conditions to a larger extent than previously thought. Here, we examine the relationship between spontaneous activity and the response of primary visual cortical neurons to dynamic natural-scene and random-noise film images in awake, freely viewing ferrets from the time of eye opening to maturity. The correspondence between evoked neural activity and the structure of the input signal was weak in young animals, but systematically improved with age. This improvement was linked to a shift in the dynamics of spontaneous activity. At all ages including the mature animal, correlations in spontaneous neural firing were only slightly modified by visual stimulation, irrespective of the sensory input. These results suggest that in both the developing and mature visual cortex, sensory evoked neural activity represents the modulation and triggering of ongoing circuit dynamics by input signals, rather than directly reflecting the structure of the input signal itself.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Action Potentials / physiology
  • Aging / physiology
  • Animals
  • Evoked Potentials, Visual / physiology
  • Ferrets / physiology*
  • Neurons / physiology*
  • Photic Stimulation
  • Saccades / physiology
  • Visual Cortex / cytology*
  • Visual Cortex / physiology*
  • Visual Perception / physiology*