Linear and nonlinear contributions to the visual sensitivity of neurons in primate lateral geniculate nucleus

J Neurophysiol. 2010 Oct;104(4):1884-98. doi: 10.1152/jn.01118.2009. Epub 2010 Aug 4.


Several parallel pathways convey retinal signals to the visual cortex of primates. The signals of the parvocellular (P) and magnocellular (M) pathways are well characterized; the properties of other rarely encountered cell types are distinctive in many ways, but it is not clear that they can provide signals with the same fidelity. Here we study this by characterizing the temporal receptive field of neurons in the lateral geniculate nucleus of anesthetized marmosets. For each neuron, we measured the response to a flickering uniform field, and, from this, estimated the linear and nonlinear receptive fields using spike-triggered average (STA) and spike-triggered covariance (STC) analyses. As expected the response of most P-cells was dominated by the STA, but the response of most M-cells required additional nonlinear components, and these usually acted to suppress cell responses. The STC analysis showed stronger suppressive axes in suppressed-by-contrast cells, and both suppressive and excitatory axes in on-off cells. Together, the STA and the STC analyses form a model of the temporal response to a large uniform field: under this model, the information that was provided by suppressed-by-contrast cells or on-off cells approached that provided by the P- and M-cells. However, whereas P- and M-cells provided more information about luminance, the nonlinear cells provided more information about the contrast energy. This suggests that the nonlinear cells provide complimentary signals to those of P- and M-cells, with reasonably high fidelity, and may play an important role in normal visual processing.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Callithrix
  • Evoked Potentials, Visual / physiology*
  • Geniculate Bodies / physiology*
  • Linear Models
  • Neurons / physiology*
  • Nonlinear Dynamics*
  • Photic Stimulation / methods*
  • Visual Cortex / physiology
  • Visual Pathways / physiology*