Send to

Choose Destination
J Neurosci. 2017 Jan 25;37(4):998-1013. doi: 10.1523/JNEUROSCI.2120-16.2016.

Nonlinear Y-Like Receptive Fields in the Early Visual Cortex: An Intermediate Stage for Building Cue-Invariant Receptive Fields from Subcortical Y Cells.

Author information

McGill Vision Research Unit, Department of Ophthalmology, McGill University, Montreal, Quebec H3G 1A4, Canada.
McGill Vision Research Unit, Department of Ophthalmology, McGill University, Montreal, Quebec H3G 1A4, Canada


Many of the neurons in early visual cortex are selective for the orientation of boundaries defined by first-order cues (luminance) as well as second-order cues (contrast, texture). The neural circuit mechanism underlying this selectivity is still unclear, but some studies have proposed that it emerges from spatial nonlinearities of subcortical Y cells. To understand how inputs from the Y-cell pathway might be pooled to generate cue-invariant receptive fields, we recorded visual responses from single neurons in cat Area 18 using linear multielectrode arrays. We measured responses to drifting and contrast-reversing luminance gratings as well as contrast modulation gratings. We found that a large fraction of these neurons have nonoriented responses to gratings, similar to those of subcortical Y cells: they respond at the second harmonic (F2) to high-spatial frequency contrast-reversing gratings and at the first harmonic (F1) to low-spatial frequency drifting gratings ("Y-cell signature"). For a given neuron, spatial frequency tuning for linear (F1) and nonlinear (F2) responses is quite distinct, similar to orientation-selective cue-invariant neurons. Also, these neurons respond to contrast modulation gratings with selectivity for the carrier (texture) spatial frequency and, in some cases, orientation. Their receptive field properties suggest that they could serve as building blocks for orientation-selective cue-invariant neurons. We propose a circuit model that combines ON- and OFF-center cortical Y-like cells in an unbalanced push-pull manner to generate orientation-selective, cue-invariant receptive fields.


A significant fraction of neurons in early visual cortex have specialized receptive fields that allow them to selectively respond to the orientation of boundaries that are invariant to the cue (luminance, contrast, texture, motion) that defines them. However, the neural mechanism to construct such versatile receptive fields remains unclear. Using multielectrode recording, we found a large fraction of neurons in early visual cortex with receptive fields not selective for orientation that have spatial nonlinearities like those of subcortical Y cells. These are strong candidates for building cue-invariant orientation-selective neurons; we present a neural circuit model that pools such neurons in an imbalanced "push-pull" manner, to generate orientation-selective cue-invariant receptive fields.


Y cell; cue invariance; receptive field; second-order; spatial nonlinearity; visual cortex

[Indexed for MEDLINE]
Free full text

Supplemental Content

Full text links

Icon for HighWire
Loading ...
Support Center