The function of a neural circuit is shaped by the computations performed by its interneurons, which in many cases are not easily accessible to experimental investigation. Here, we elucidate the transformation of visual signals flowing from the input to the output of the primate retina, using a combination of large-scale multi-electrode recordings from an identified ganglion cell type, visual stimulation targeted at individual cone photoreceptors, and a hierarchical computational model. The results reveal nonlinear subunits in the circuity of OFF midget ganglion cells, which subserve high-resolution vision. The model explains light responses to a variety of stimuli more accurately than a linear model, including stimuli targeted to cones within and across subunits. The recovered model components are consistent with known anatomical organization of midget bipolar interneurons. These results reveal the spatial structure of linear and nonlinear encoding, at the resolution of single cells and at the scale of complete circuits.
Keywords: computational biology; encoding models; macaque; neuroscience; nonlinearity; systems biology.