How well do response changes of striate neurons signal differences in orientation: a study in the discriminating monkey

J Neurosci. 1990 Nov;10(11):3543-58. doi: 10.1523/JNEUROSCI.10-11-03543.1990.


Just-noticeable differences (JNDs) in orientation were measured in 2 monkeys using a temporal same-different task, with stationary rectangular gratings as stimuli, and compared to those of humans tested in the same setup. The JNDs of one monkey (1.5 degree) were similar to those of humans; those of the other monkey were larger (5.8 degrees). We recorded from V1 neurons in these monkeys while they were performing the orientation discrimination with the same stimuli and under the same conditions as used in the behavioral testing. In order to determine how small a difference in orientation the V1 neurons can, in these conditions, signal reliably by small changes in firing rate, we performed 2 different receiver-operating characteristic (ROC) analyses. One ROC analysis was performed on the number of spikes evoked by the first of the 2 stimulus presentations as a function of the orientation of this stimulus. Neural JNDs derived from the neurometric curve were obtained in this way for 50 cells. In the second ROC analysis, the difference in the number of spikes evoked by the 2 stimuli presented in succession during 1 trial was analyzed as a function of orientation difference between the 2 stimuli. Neural JNDs were obtained by this procedure for 21 cells. These 2 complementary ROC analyses yielded very similar results. Also, the results were similar for the 2 monkeys. A minor fraction of V1 cells can reliably signal difference in orientation as small as 2.5 degrees, but none could signal differences smaller than 2 degrees. Our results also showed that the neural JND obtained by the ROC analysis depends on the duration of the interval during which spikes are counted. In these experiments, this duration could be chosen rather precisely, because the reaction times of the 2 monkeys were measured. Also, our results showed that the neural JND depends on the point of the tuning curve at which the measurement is made and is smallest when this is done on the steepest part of the tuning curve. Finally, our results show that the discriminative capacity of V1 neurons does not depend so much on each of the tuning characteristics--bandwidth, response strength, and variability--as on the combination of these factors.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Analysis of Variance
  • Animals
  • Differential Threshold*
  • Discrimination Learning*
  • Evoked Potentials
  • Humans
  • Macaca mulatta
  • Neurons / physiology*
  • Orientation*
  • Saccades
  • Time Factors
  • Visual Cortex / physiology*