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J Vis. 2013 Dec 31;13(14). pii: 19. doi: 10.1167/13.14.19.

Computing local edge probability in natural scenes from a population of oriented simple cells.

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Department of Biomedical Engineering, University of Southern California, Los Angeles, CA, USA.


A key computation in visual cortex is the extraction of object contours, where the first stage of processing is commonly attributed to V1 simple cells. The standard model of a simple cell-an oriented linear filter followed by a divisive normalization-fits a wide variety of physiological data, but is a poor performing local edge detector when applied to natural images. The brain's ability to finely discriminate edges from nonedges therefore likely depends on information encoded by local simple cell populations. To gain insight into the corresponding decoding problem, we used Bayes's rule to calculate edge probability at a given location/orientation in an image based on a surrounding filter population. Beginning with a set of ∼ 100 filters, we culled out a subset that were maximally informative about edges, and minimally correlated to allow factorization of the joint on- and off-edge likelihood functions. Key features of our approach include a new, efficient method for ground-truth edge labeling, an emphasis on achieving filter independence, including a focus on filters in the region orthogonal rather than tangential to an edge, and the use of a customized parametric model to represent the individual filter likelihood functions. The resulting population-based edge detector has zero parameters, calculates edge probability based on a sum of surrounding filter influences, is much more sharply tuned than the underlying linear filters, and effectively captures fine-scale edge structure in natural scenes. Our findings predict nonmonotonic interactions between cells in visual cortex, wherein a cell may for certain stimuli excite and for other stimuli inhibit the same neighboring cell, depending on the two cells' relative offsets in position and orientation, and their relative activation levels.


Bayesian inference; edge detection; natural image statistics; simple cells

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