Neurons in primary visual cortex represent distribution of luminance

Physiol Rep. 2016 Sep;4(18):e12966. doi: 10.14814/phy2.12966.


To efficiently detect a wide range of light-intensity changes, visual neurons must adapt to ambient luminance. However, how neurons in the primary visual cortex (V1) code the distribution of luminance remains unknown. We designed stimuli that represent rapid changes in luminance under different luminance distributions and investigated V1 neuron responses to these novel stimuli. We demonstrate that V1 neurons represent luminance changes by dynamically adjusting their responses when the luminance distribution changes. Many cells (35%) detected luminance changes by responding to dark stimuli when the distribution was dominated by bright stimuli, bright stimuli when dominated by dark stimuli, and both dark and bright stimuli when dominated by intermediate luminance stimuli; 13% of cells signaled the mean luminance that was varied with different distributions; the remaining 52% of cells gradually shifted the responses that were most sensitive to luminance changes when the luminance distribution varied. The remarkable response changes of the former two cell groups suggest their crucial roles in detecting luminance changes. These response characteristics demonstrate that V1 neurons are not only sensitive to luminance change, but also luminance distribution change. They encode luminance changes according to the luminance distribution. Mean cells represent the prevailing luminance and reversal cells represent the salient stimuli in the environment.

Keywords: Extracellular recording; luminance distribution; neural coding; primary visual cortex.