A central transformation that occurs within mammalian visual cortex is the change from linear, polarity-sensitive responses to nonlinear, polarity-insensitive responses. These neurons are classically labelled as either simple or complex, respectively, on the basis of their response linearity (Skottun et al., 1991). While the difference between cell classes is clear when the stimulus strength is high, reducing stimulus strength diminishes the differences between the cell types and causes some complex cells to respond as simple cells (Crowder et al., 2007; van Kleef et al., 2010; Hietanen et al., 2013). To understand the synaptic basis for this shift in behavior, we used in vivo whole-cell recordings while systematically shifting stimulus contrast. We find systematic shifts in the degree of complex cell responses in mouse primary visual cortex (V1) at the subthreshold level, demonstrating that synaptic inputs change in concert with the shifts in response linearity and that the change in response linearity is not simply due to the threshold nonlinearity. These shifts are consistent with a visual cortex model in which the recurrent amplification acts as a critical component in the generation of complex cell responses (Chance et al., 1999).
Keywords: complex cell; in vivo whole-cell recording; phase sensitivity; primary visual cortex; visual system.