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Front Neural Circuits. 2013 Dec 27;7:206. doi: 10.3389/fncir.2013.00206. eCollection 2013.

Animation of natural scene by virtual eye-movements evokes high precision and low noise in V1 neurons.

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Unité de Neuroscience, Information et Complexité, UPR 3293 Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique Gif-sur-Yvette, France.


Synaptic noise is thought to be a limiting factor for computational efficiency in the brain. In visual cortex (V1), ongoing activity is present in vivo, and spiking responses to simple stimuli are highly unreliable across trials. Stimulus statistics used to plot receptive fields, however, are quite different from those experienced during natural visuomotor exploration. We recorded V1 neurons intracellularly in the anaesthetized and paralyzed cat and compared their spiking and synaptic responses to full field natural images animated by simulated eye-movements to those evoked by simpler (grating) or higher dimensionality statistics (dense noise). In most cells, natural scene animation was the only condition where high temporal precision (in the 10-20 ms range) was maintained during sparse and reliable activity. At the subthreshold level, irregular but highly reproducible membrane potential dynamics were observed, even during long (several 100 ms) "spike-less" periods. We showed that both the spatial structure of natural scenes and the temporal dynamics of eye-movements increase the signal-to-noise ratio by a non-linear amplification of the signal combined with a reduction of the subthreshold contextual noise. These data support the view that the sparsening and the time precision of the neural code in V1 may depend primarily on three factors: (1) broadband input spectrum: the bandwidth must be rich enough for recruiting optimally the diversity of spatial and time constants during recurrent processing; (2) tight temporal interplay of excitation and inhibition: conductance measurements demonstrate that natural scene statistics narrow selectively the duration of the spiking opportunity window during which the balance between excitation and inhibition changes transiently and reversibly; (3) signal energy in the lower frequency band: a minimal level of power is needed below 10 Hz to reach consistently the spiking threshold, a situation rarely reached with visual dense noise.


eye movements; intracellular membrane potential dynamics; natural visual statistics; reliability; sensory coding; visual cortex

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