Masking reduces orientation selectivity in rat visual cortex

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleResearchpeer-review

9 Citations (Scopus)


In visual masking the perception of a target stimulus is impaired by a preceding (forward) or succeeding (backward) mask stimulus. The illusion is of interest because it allows uncoupling of the physical stimulus, its neuronal representation, and its perception. To understand the neuronal correlates of masking, we examined how masks affected the neuronal responses to oriented target stimuli in the primary visual cortex (V1) of anesthetized rats (n = 37). Target stimuli were circular gratings with 12 orientations; mask stimuli were plaids created as a binarized sum of all possible target orientations. Spatially, masks were presented either overlapping or surrounding the target. Temporally, targets and masks were presented for 33 ms, but the stimulus onset asynchrony (SOA) of their relative appearance was varied. For the first time, we examine how spatially overlapping and center-surround masking affect orientation discriminability (rather than visibility) in V1. Regardless of the spatial or temporal arrangement of stimuli, the greatest reductions in firing rate and orientation selectivity occurred for the shortest SOAs. Interestingly, analyses conducted separately for transient and sustained target response components showed that changes in orientation selectivity do not always coincide with changes in firing rate. Given the near-instantaneous reductions observed in orientation selectivity even when target and mask do not spatially overlap, we suggest that monotonic visual masking is explained by a combination of neural integration and lateral inhibition.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)2331-2341
Number of pages11
JournalJournal of Neurophysiology
Issue number5
Publication statusPublished - 1 Nov 2016


  • Backward masking
  • Forward masking
  • Primary visual cortex
  • V1

Cite this