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Brain Topogr. 2008 Sep;21(1):11-21. doi: 10.1007/s10548-008-0063-4. Epub 2008 Sep 11.

Parvocellular and magnocellular contributions to the initial generators of the visual evoked potential: high-density electrical mapping of the "C1" component.

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Program in Cognitive Neuroscience, Department of Psychology, The City College of the City University of New York, New York, NY 10031, USA.


The C1 component of the VEP is considered to index initial afference of retinotopic regions of human visual cortex (V1 and V2). C1 onsets over central parieto-occipital scalp between 45 and 60 ms, peaks between 70 and 100 ms, and then resolves into the following P1 component. By exploiting isoluminant and low-contrast luminance stimuli, we assessed the relative contributions of the Magnocellular (M) and Parvocellular (P) pathways to generation of C1. C1 was maximal at 88 ms in a 100% luminance contrast condition (which stimulates both P and M pathways) and at 115 ms in an isoluminant chromatic condition (which isolates contributions of the P pathway). However, in a 4% luminance contrast condition (which isolates the M pathway), where the stimuli were still clearly perceived, C1 was completely absent. Absence of C1 in this low contrast condition is unlikely to be attributable to lack of stimulus energy since a robust P1-N1 complex was evoked. These data therefore imply that C1 may be primarily parvocellular in origin. The data do not, however, rule out some contribution from the M system at higher contrast levels. Nonetheless, that the amplitude of C1 to P-isolating isoluminant chromatic stimuli is equivalent to that evoked by 100% contrast stimuli suggests that even at high contrast levels, the P system is the largest contributor. These data are related to intracranial recordings in macaque monkeys that have also suggested that the initial current sink in layer IV may not propagate effectively to the scalp surface when M-biased stimuli are used. We also discuss how this finding has implications for a long tradition of attention research that has used C1 as a metric of initial V1 afference in humans. C1 has been repeatedly interrogated for potential selective attentional modulations, particularly in spatial attentional designs, under the premise that modulation of this component, or lack thereof, would be evidence for or against selection at the initial inputs to visual cortex. Given the findings here, we would urge that in interpreting C1 effects, a consideration of the dominant cellular contributions will be necessary. For example, it is plausible that spatial attention mechanisms could operate primarily through the M system and that as such C1 may not always represent an adequate dependent measure in such studies.

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