Contrast sensitivity and spatial frequency response of primate cortical neurons in and around the cytochrome oxidase blobs

Vision Res. 1995 Jun;35(11):1501-23. doi: 10.1016/0042-6989(94)00253-i.


The striate cortex of macaque monkeys contains an array of patches which stain heavily for the enzyme cytochrome oxidase (CO blobs). Cells inside and outside these blobs are often described as belonging to two distinct populations or streams. In order to better understand the function of the CO blobs, we measured the contrast sensitivity and spatial frequency response of single neurons in and around the CO blobs. Density profiles of each blob were assessed using a new quantitative method, and correlations of local CO density with the physiology were noted. We found that the CO density dropped off gradually with distance from blob centers: in a typical blob the CO density dropped from 75% to 25% over 100 microns. Recordings were confined to cortical layers 2/3. Most neurons in these layers have poor contrast sensitivity, similar to that of the parvocellular neurons in the lateral geniculate nucleus. However, in a small proportion of layers 2/3 neurons we found higher contrast sensitivity, similar to that of the magnocellular neurons. These neurons were found to cluster near blob centers. This finding is consistent with (indirect) parvocellular input spread uniformly throughout layers 2/3, and (indirect) magnocellular input focused on CO blobs. We also measured spatial tuning curves for both single units and multiple unit activity. In agreement with other workers we found that the optimal spatial frequencies of cells near blob centers were low (median 2.8 c/deg), while the optimal frequencies of cells in the interblob regions were spread over a wide range of spatial frequencies. The high cut-off spatial frequency of multi-unit activity increased with distance from blob centers. We found no correlation between spatial bandwidth and distance from blob centers. All measured physiological properties varied gradually with distance from CO blob centers. This suggests that the view of blob cells subserving visual functions which are entirely distinct from non-blob cells may have to be reevaluated.

Publication types

  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Contrast Sensitivity*
  • Electron Transport Complex IV / metabolism*
  • Image Processing, Computer-Assisted
  • Macaca fascicularis / physiology*
  • Neurons, Afferent / physiology
  • Photic Stimulation
  • Signal Detection, Psychological
  • Space Perception*
  • Visual Cortex / enzymology
  • Visual Cortex / physiology*


  • Electron Transport Complex IV