Mechanisms underlying direction selectivity of neurons in the primary visual cortex of the macaque

J Neurophysiol. 1995 Oct;74(4):1382-94. doi: 10.1152/jn.1995.74.4.1382.


1. We studied the effects of blocking intracortical inhibition by microiontophoretic administration of bicuculline methiodide (BMI), a selective antagonist for gamma-aminobutyric acid-A receptors, on direction sensitivity of 103 neurons in the primary visual cortex (VI) of anesthetized and paralyzed monkeys. 2. The direction selectivity index (DSI) of each cell was calculated for the control response and response during the BMI administration at the optimal stimulus orientation to assess the directionality of an individual cell. 3. The averaged direction tuning of visual responses of cells was sharp in layers IVa and IVb, moderate in both interblob and blob regions of layer II/III and layers V and VI, and poor in layers IVc alpha and IVc beta. 4. Iontophoretic administration of BMI uncovered or facilitated responses to stimuli moving in the nonpreferred direction, and reduced DSIs of cells to a varying extent in all the layers except layer VI. Responses to stimuli moving in the preferred direction were also facilitated so that a slight bias of response toward the originally preferred direction remained during BMI administration in most cells. 5. Most of the cells in layers II/III (both blobs and interblobs) and IVb that receive inputs from layers IVc alpha and IVc beta showed a clear reduction of direction selectivity during BMI administration. This result suggests that intracortical inhibition plays an important role in the elaboration of direction selectivity at the second stage of information processing in VI. 6. The direction selectivity of cells in layer VI was most resistant to the effects of BMI, suggesting that it is dependent on excitatory inputs that are already direction selective, even though the sample size of this layer was small. 7. In direction-selective cells outside layer VI, responses to a stimulus moving in the preferred direction were enhanced in a way that was linearly related with those in the nonpreferred direction as the BMI dose was increased. This suggests that various amounts of inhibition interact linearly with directionally biased excitatory inputs to raise the firing threshold to various levels so as to produce various degrees of directionality. 8. These results suggest that, in most of the directionally sensitive cells except for those in layer VI, there are excitatory inputs which are bidirectional but slightly biased to one direction, and that the intracortical inhibition raises a threshold level of responses to excitatory inputs so that the response become direction selective.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Bicuculline / analogs & derivatives
  • Bicuculline / pharmacology
  • Electrophysiology
  • Iontophoresis
  • Macaca / physiology*
  • Neural Inhibition
  • Neurons / drug effects
  • Neurons / physiology*
  • Photic Stimulation
  • Visual Cortex / cytology
  • Visual Cortex / drug effects
  • Visual Cortex / physiology*


  • bicuculline methiodide
  • Bicuculline