Contrast and response gain control depend on cortical map architecture

Markus A. Hietanen, Shaun L. Cloherty, Michael R. Ibbotson

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Visual cortical neurons are sensitive to visual stimulus contrast and most cells adapt their sensitivity to the prevailing visual environment. Specifically, they match the steepest region of their contrast response function to the prevailing contrast (contrast gain control), and reduce spike rates to limit saturation (response gain control). Most neurons are also tuned for stimulus orientation, and neurons with similar orientation preference are clustered together into iso-orientation zones arranged around pinwheels, i.e. points where all orientations are represented. Here we investigated the relationship between the contrast adaptation properties of neurons and their location relative to pinwheels in the orientation preference map. We measured orientation preference maps in cat cortex using optical intrinsic signal imaging. We then characterized the contrast adaptation properties of single neurons located close to pinwheels, in iso-orientation zones, and at regions in between. We found little evidence of differential contrast sensitivity of neurons adapted to zero contrast. However, after adaptation to their preferred orientation at high contrast, changes in both contrast and response gain were greater for neurons near pinwheels compared with other map regions. Therefore, in the adapted state, which is probably typical during natural viewing, there is a spatial map of contrast sensitivity that is associated with the orientation preference map. This differential adaptation revealed a new dimension of cortical functional organization, linking the contrast adaptation of cells with the orientation preference of their nearest neighbours. We used optical intrinsic signal imaging to measure orientation preference maps in cat primary visual cortex (A). We then measured the contrast response functions of single cells in orientation pinwheels and in iso-orientation zones before and after adaptation (B). We found that cells in orientation pinwheels showed greater contrast and response gain control than cells in iso-orientation zones (C).

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)2963-2973
Number of pages11
JournalEuropean Journal of Neuroscience
Issue number11
Publication statusPublished - Dec 2015
Externally publishedYes


  • Adaptation
  • Cat
  • Information
  • Visual cortex
  • Visual system

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