Cortical Balance Between ON and OFF Visual Responses Is Modulated by the Spatial Properties of the Visual Stimulus

Cereb Cortex. 2019 Jan 1;29(1):336-355. doi: 10.1093/cercor/bhy221.


The primary visual cortex of carnivores and primates is dominated by the OFF visual pathway and responds more strongly to dark than light stimuli. Here, we demonstrate that this cortical OFF dominance is modulated by the size and spatial frequency of the stimulus in awake primates and we uncover a main neuronal mechanism underlying this modulation. We show that large grating patterns with low spatial frequencies drive five times more OFF-dominated than ON-dominated neurons, but this pronounced cortical OFF dominance is strongly reduced when the grating size decreases and the spatial frequency increases, as when the stimulus moves away from the observer. We demonstrate that the reduction in cortical OFF dominance is not caused by a selective reduction of visual responses in OFF-dominated neurons but by a change in the ON/OFF response balance of neurons with diverse receptive field properties that can be ON or OFF dominated, simple, or complex. We conclude that cortical OFF dominance is continuously adjusted by a neuronal mechanism that modulates ON/OFF response balance in multiple cortical neurons when the spatial properties of the visual stimulus change with viewing distance and/or optical blur.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Action Potentials / physiology*
  • Animals
  • Macaca mulatta
  • Male
  • Photic Stimulation / methods*
  • Space Perception / physiology*
  • Visual Cortex / physiology*
  • Visual Pathways / physiology*