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J Neurosci. 2001 Mar 1;21(5):1698-709.

Contextual modulation in primary visual cortex of macaques.

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Laboratory of Brain and Cognition, National Institute of Mental Health, National Institutes of Health, Bethesda, Maryland 20892, USA.


Recent studies have suggested that V1 neurons extract figures from their backgrounds, in that they respond better to interior features of figures than to equivalent features of background stimuli. This is reportedly true even when the figure boundaries are distant from the borders of the classical receptive field (RF). To test the role of V1 neurons in figure-ground segregation, we recorded their responses to texture figures on texture backgrounds, centered on the RF. The texture elements of the figures remained identical across trials, and figure boundaries were defined by orientation differences between the elements in the background texture relative to elements in the figure. For nearly all neurons (98/102), responses to a large texture figure did not differ from the responses to a uniform-texture background. Although many neurons gave enhanced responses to texture boundaries, this occurred only when the boundaries were within or close to the RF borders. Similar effects were found in V2. For neurons in V1, the limited spatial extent of the contextual modulation was not increased either at low stimulus contrast or when the animal was rewarded for detecting an orientation-defined figure. Thus, V1 neurons appear to signal texture boundaries rather than figures per se. Unexpectedly, many V1 neurons gave significant long-latency responses to texture stimuli located entirely outside the classical RF, up to 5 degrees from the RF border in some cases. However, these responses did not depend on the stimulus forming a figure that contained the RF. Although V1 neurons are influenced by stimuli outside the classical RF, they do not appear to segregate figures from ground.

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