Background: Sensory neurons display transient changes of their response properties following prolonged exposure to an appropriate stimulus (adaptation). In adult cat primary visual cortex, orientation-selective neurons shift their preferred orientation after being adapted to a non-preferred orientation. The direction of those shifts, towards (attractive) or away (repulsive) from the adapter depends mostly on adaptation duration. How the adaptive behavior of a neuron is related to that of its neighbors remains unclear.
Results: Here we show that in most cases (75%), cells shift their preferred orientation in the same direction as their neighbors. We also found that cells shifting preferred orientation differently from their neighbors (25%) display three interesting properties: (i) larger variance of absolute shift amplitude, (ii) wider tuning bandwidth and (iii) larger range of preferred orientations among the cluster of cells. Several response properties of V1 neurons depend on their location within the cortical orientation map. Our results suggest that recording sites with both attractive and repulsive shifts following adaptation may be located in close proximity to iso-orientation domain boundaries or pinwheel centers. Indeed, those regions have a more diverse orientation distribution of local inputs that could account for the three properties above. On the other hand, sites with all cells shifting their preferred orientation in the same direction could be located within iso-orientation domains.
Conclusions: Our results suggest that the direction and amplitude of orientation preference shifts in V1 depend on location within the orientation map. This anisotropy of adaptation-induced plasticity, comparable to that of the visual cortex itself, could have important implications for our understanding of visual adaptation at the psychophysical level.