Spatial phase sensitivity of complex cells in primary visual cortex depends on stimulus contrast

J Neurophysiol. 2015 Dec;114(6):3326-38. doi: 10.1152/jn.00431.2015. Epub 2015 Sep 16.


Neurons in primary visual cortex are classified as simple, which are phase sensitive, or complex, which are significantly less phase sensitive. Previously, we have used drifting gratings to show that the phase sensitivity of complex cells increases at low contrast and after contrast adaptation while that of simple cells remains the same at all contrasts (Cloherty SL, Ibbotson MR. J Neurophysiol 113: 434-444, 2015; Crowder NA, van Kleef J, Dreher B, Ibbotson MR. J Neurophysiol 98: 1155-1166, 2007; van Kleef JP, Cloherty SL, Ibbotson MR. J Physiol 588: 3457-3470, 2010). However, drifting gratings confound the influence of spatial and temporal summation, so here we have stimulated complex cells with gratings that are spatially stationary but continuously reverse the polarity of the contrast over time (contrast-reversing gratings). By varying the spatial phase and contrast of the gratings we aimed to establish whether the contrast-dependent phase sensitivity of complex cells results from changes in spatial or temporal processing or both. We found that most of the increase in phase sensitivity at low contrasts could be attributed to changes in the spatial phase sensitivities of complex cells. However, at low contrasts the complex cells did not develop the spatiotemporal response characteristics of simple cells, in which paired response peaks occur 180° out of phase in time and space. Complex cells that increased their spatial phase sensitivity at low contrasts were significantly overrepresented in the supragranular layers of cortex. We conclude that complex cells in supragranular layers of cat cortex have dynamic spatial summation properties and that the mechanisms underlying complex cell receptive fields differ between cortical layers.

Keywords: area 17; cat cortex; complex cell; visual system.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Cats
  • Contrast Sensitivity*
  • Neurons / physiology*
  • Postsynaptic Potential Summation
  • Visual Cortex / cytology
  • Visual Cortex / physiology*