Throughout different sensory systems, individual neurons integrate incoming signals over their receptive fields. The characteristics of this signal integration are crucial determinants for the neurons' functions. For ganglion cells in the vertebrate retina, receptive fields are characterized by the well-known center-surround structure and, although several studies have addressed spatial integration in the receptive field center, little is known about how visual signals are integrated in the surround. Therefore, we set out here to characterize signal integration and to identify relevant nonlinearities in the receptive field surround of ganglion cells in the isolated salamander retina by recording spiking activity with extracellular electrodes under visual stimulation of the center and surround. To quantify nonlinearities of spatial integration independently of subsequent nonlinearities of spike generation, we applied the technique of iso-response measurements as follows: using closed-loop experiments, we searched for different stimulus patterns in the surround that all reduced the center-evoked spiking activity by the same amount. The identified iso-response stimuli revealed strongly nonlinear spatial integration in the receptive field surrounds of all recorded cells. Furthermore, cell types that had been shown previously to have different nonlinearities in receptive field centers showed similar surround nonlinearities but differed systematically in the adaptive characteristics of the surround. Finally, we found that there is an optimal spatial scale of surround suppression; suppression was most effective when surround stimulation was organized into subregions of several hundred micrometers in diameter, indicating that the surround is composed of subunits that have strong center-surround organization themselves.
Keywords: closed-loop; ganglion cell; iso-response; nonlinear model; receptive field surround; retina.
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