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Elife. 2017 Jan 28;6. pii: e21589. doi: 10.7554/eLife.21589.

Stimulus relevance modulates contrast adaptation in visual cortex.

Author information

  • 1Institute of Neuroinformatics, University of Zurich and ETH Zurich, Zürich, Switzerland.
  • 2Brain Research Institute, University of Zurich, Zürich, Switzerland.
  • 3Friedrich Miescher Institute for Biomedical Research, Basel, Switzerland.
  • 4Department of Neuroscience, Physiology and Pharmacology, University College London, London, United Kingdom.
  • 5Department of Neurophysiology, Institute of Biology II, RWTH Aachen University, Aachen, Germany.
  • 6JARA BRAIN Institute for Neuroscience and Medicine, Forschungszentrum Jülich, Jülich, Germany.
  • 7Ear Institute, University College London, London, United Kingdom.
  • 8Biozentrum, University of Basel, Basel, Switzerland.
  • 9Faculty of Natural Sciences, University of Basel, Basel, Switzerland.


A general principle of sensory processing is that neurons adapt to sustained stimuli by reducing their response over time. Most of our knowledge on adaptation in single cells is based on experiments in anesthetized animals. How responses adapt in awake animals, when stimuli may be behaviorally relevant or not, remains unclear. Here we show that contrast adaptation in mouse primary visual cortex depends on the behavioral relevance of the stimulus. Cells that adapted to contrast under anesthesia maintained or even increased their activity in awake naïve mice. When engaged in a visually guided task, contrast adaptation re-occurred for stimuli that were irrelevant for solving the task. However, contrast adaptation was reversed when stimuli acquired behavioral relevance. Regulation of cortical adaptation by task demand may allow dynamic control of sensory-evoked signal flow in the neocortex.


attentional modulation; behavior; contrast adaptation; mouse; neuroscience; sensory processing; stimulus relevance; visual attention

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