Functional Specialization of ON and OFF Cortical Pathways for Global-Slow and Local-Fast Vision

Cell Rep. 2019 Jun 4;27(10):2881-2894.e5. doi: 10.1016/j.celrep.2019.05.007.


Visual information is processed in the cortex by ON and OFF pathways that respond to light and dark stimuli. Responses to darks are stronger, faster, and driven by a larger number of cortical neurons than responses to lights. Here, we demonstrate that these light-dark cortical asymmetries reflect a functional specialization of ON and OFF pathways for different stimulus properties. We show that large long-lasting stimuli drive stronger cortical responses when they are light, whereas small fast stimuli drive stronger cortical responses when they are dark. Moreover, we show that these light-dark asymmetries are preserved under a wide variety of luminance conditions that range from photopic to low mesopic light. Our results suggest that ON and OFF pathways extract different spatiotemporal information from visual scenes, making OFF local-fast signals better suited to maximize visual acuity and ON global-slow signals better suited to guide the eye movements needed for retinal image stabilization.

Keywords: LGN; adaptation; area V1; image stabilization; luminance; receptive field; retina; thalamocortical; thalamus; visual cortex.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Cats
  • Excitatory Postsynaptic Potentials / physiology
  • Excitatory Postsynaptic Potentials / radiation effects
  • Inhibitory Postsynaptic Potentials / physiology
  • Inhibitory Postsynaptic Potentials / radiation effects
  • Light
  • Male
  • Neurons / physiology
  • Photic Stimulation
  • Postsynaptic Potential Summation / physiology
  • Postsynaptic Potential Summation / radiation effects
  • Retina / physiology
  • Retina / radiation effects
  • Visual Acuity / physiology*
  • Visual Acuity / radiation effects*
  • Visual Cortex / physiology*
  • Visual Cortex / radiation effects
  • Visual Pathways / physiology*
  • Visual Pathways / radiation effects
  • Visual Perception / physiology*
  • Visual Perception / radiation effects