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J Neurophysiol. 2011 Jul;106(1):374-85. doi: 10.1152/jn.00928.2010. Epub 2011 May 4.

The speed of context integration in the visual cortex.

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  • 1Department of Neuroscience, Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, and Krieger Mind/Brain Institute, Johns Hopkins University, Baltimore, Maryland 21218, USA.


The observation of figure-ground selectivity in neurons of the visual cortex shows that these neurons can be influenced by the image context far beyond the classical receptive field. To clarify the nature of the context integration mechanism, we studied the latencies of neural edge signals, comparing the emergence of context-dependent definition of border ownership with the onset of local edge definition (contrast polarity; stereoscopic depth order). Single-neuron activity was recorded in areas V1 and V2 of Macaca mulatta under behaviorally induced fixation. Whereas local edge definition emerged immediately (<13 ms) after the edge onset response, the context-dependent signal was delayed by about 30 ms. To see if the context influence was mediated by horizontal fibers within cortex, we measured the latencies of border ownership signals for two conditions in which the relevant context information was located at different distances from the receptive field and compared the latency difference with the difference predicted from horizontal signal propagation. The prediction was based on the increase in cortical distance, computed from the mapping of the test stimuli in the cortex, and the known conduction velocities of horizontal fibers. The measured latencies increased with cortical distance, but much less than predicted by the horizontal propagation hypothesis. Probability calculations showed that an explanation of the context influence by horizontal signal propagation alone is highly unlikely, whereas mechanisms involving back projections from other extrastriate areas are plausible.

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