Electrophysiological indices of surround suppression in humans

J Neurophysiol. 2015 Feb 15;113(4):1100-9. doi: 10.1152/jn.00774.2014. Epub 2014 Nov 19.


Surround suppression is a well-known example of contextual interaction in visual cortical neurophysiology, whereby the neural response to a stimulus presented within a neuron's classical receptive field is suppressed by surrounding stimuli. Human psychophysical reports present an obvious analog to the effects seen at the single-neuron level: stimuli are perceived as lower-contrast when embedded in a surround. Here we report on a visual paradigm that provides relatively direct, straightforward indices of surround suppression in human electrophysiology, enabling us to reproduce several well-known neurophysiological and psychophysical effects, and to conduct new analyses of temporal trends and retinal location effects. Steady-state visual evoked potentials (SSVEP) elicited by flickering "foreground" stimuli were measured in the context of various static surround patterns. Early visual cortex geometry and retinotopic organization were exploited to enhance SSVEP amplitude. The foreground response was strongly suppressed as a monotonic function of surround contrast. Furthermore, suppression was stronger for surrounds of matching orientation than orthogonally-oriented ones, and stronger at peripheral than foveal locations. These patterns were reproduced in psychophysical reports of perceived contrast, and peripheral electrophysiological suppression effects correlated with psychophysical effects across subjects. Temporal analysis of SSVEP amplitude revealed short-term contrast adaptation effects that caused the foreground signal to either fall or grow over time, depending on the relative contrast of the surround, consistent with stronger adaptation of the suppressive drive. This electrophysiology paradigm has clinical potential in indexing not just visual deficits but possibly gain control deficits expressed more widely in the disordered brain.

Keywords: contextual interactions; electroencephalography; inhibition; steady-state visual evoked potential; visual cortex.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Adaptation, Physiological*
  • Adult
  • Contrast Sensitivity*
  • Evoked Potentials, Visual*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Visual Cortex / physiology*