Visual response properties of neurons in the superficial layers of the superior colliculus of awake mouse

J Physiol. 2018 Dec;596(24):6307-6332. doi: 10.1113/JP276964. Epub 2018 Nov 10.


Key points: In rodents, including mice, the superior colliculus is the major target of the retina, but its visual response is not well characterized. In the present study, extracellular recordings from single nerve cells in the superficial layers of the superior colliculus were made in awake, head-restrained mice, and their responses to visual stimuli were measured. It was found that these neurons show brisk, highly sensitive and short latency visual responses, a preference for black over white stimuli, and diverse responses to moving patterns. At least five broad classes can be defined by variation in functional properties among units. The results of the present study demonstrate that eye movements have a measurable impact on visual responses in awake animals and show how they may be mitigated in analyses.

Abstract: The mouse is an increasingly important animal model of visual function in health and disease. In mice, most retinal signals are routed through the superficial layers of the midbrain superior colliculus, and it is well established that much of the visual behaviour of mice relies on activity in the superior colliculus. The functional organization of visual signals in the mouse superior colliculus is, however, not well established in awake animals. We therefore made extracellular recordings from the superficial layers of the superior colliculus in awake mice, while the animals were viewing visual stimuli including flashed spots and drifting gratings. We find that neurons in the superficial layers of the superior colliculus of awake mouse generally show short latency, brisk responses. Receptive fields are usually 'ON-OFF' with a preference for black stimuli, and are weakly non-linear in response to gratings and other forms of luminance modulation. Population responses to drifting gratings are highly contrast sensitive, with a robust response to spatial frequencies above 0.3 cycles degree-1 and temporal frequencies above 15 Hz. The receptive fields are also often speed-tuned or direction-selective. Analysis of the response across multiple stimulus dimensions reveals at least five functionally distinct groups of units. We also find that eye movements affect measurements of receptive field properties in awake animals, and show how these may be mitigated in analyses. Qualitatively similar responses were obtained in urethane-anaesthetized animals, although receptive fields in awake animals had higher contrast sensitivity, shorter visual latency and a stronger response to high temporal frequencies.

Keywords: anaesthesia; functional properties; receptive field; tectum; vision.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Eye Movements / physiology
  • Male
  • Mice
  • Mice, Inbred C57BL
  • Neurons / physiology*
  • Photic Stimulation
  • Superior Colliculi / cytology*
  • Wakefulness / physiology*