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J Neurophysiol. 2003 Sep;90(3):1910-20. Epub 2003 May 15.

Responses to natural scenes in cat V1.

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Institute of Neuroinformatics, University and Federal Institute of Technology Zurich, 8057 Zurich, Switzerland.


Studies on processing in primary visual areas often use artificial stimuli such as bars or gratings. As a result, little is known about the properties of activity patterns for the natural stimuli processed by the visual system on a daily basis. Furthermore, in the cat, a well-studied model system for visual processing, most results are obtained from anesthetized subjects and little is known about neuronal activations in the alert animal. Addressing these issues, we measure local field potentials (lfp) and multiunit spikes in the primary visual cortex of awake cats. We compare changes in the lfp power spectra and multiunit firing rates for natural movies, movies with modified spatio-temporal correlations as well as gratings. The activity patterns elicited by drifting gratings are qualitatively and quantitatively different from those elicited by natural stimuli and this difference arises from both spatial as well as temporal properties of the stimuli. Furthermore, both local field potentials and multiunit firing rates are most sensitive to the second-order statistics of the stimuli and not to their higher-order properties. Finally, responses to natural movies show a large variability over time because of activity fluctuations induced by rapid stimulus motion. We show that these fluctuations are not dependent on the detailed spatial properties of the stimuli but depend on their temporal jitter. These fluctuations are important characteristics of visual activity under natural conditions and impose limitations on the readout of possible differences in mean activity levels.

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