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J Neurophysiol. 1985 Oct;54(4):867-86.

Pulvinar nuclei of the behaving rhesus monkey: visual responses and their modulation.


We have examined the properties of neurons in three subdivisions of the pulvinar of alert, trained rhesus monkeys 1) an inferior, retinotopically mapped area (PI), 2) a lateral, retinotopically organized region (PL), and 3) a dorsomedial visual portion of the lateral pulvinar (Pdm), which has a crude retinotopic organization. We tested the neurons for visual responses to stationary and moving stimuli and for changes in these responses produced by behavioral manipulations. All areas contain cells sensitive to stimulus orientation as well as neurons selective for the direction of stimulus movement; however, the majority of cells in all three regions are either broadly tuned or nonselective for these attributes. Nearly all cells respond to stimulus onset, a significant number also give a response to stimulus termination, and rarely a cell gives only off responses. Nearly all cells increase their discharge rate to visual stimuli. Receptive fields in the two retinotopically mapped regions, PI and PL, have well-defined borders. The sizes of these receptive fields show a positive correlation with the eccentricity of the receptive fields. The receptive fields in the remaining region, Pdm, are frequently very large, but with these large fields excluded, show a similar correlation with eccentricity. All pulvinar cells tested (n = 20) were mapped in retinal coordinates; the receptive fields are positioned in relation to the retina. We found no cells with gaze-gated characteristics (2), nor cells mapped in a spatial coordinate system. The response latencies in PI and PL are shorter and less variable than the latencies in Pdm. Active use of a stimulus can produce an enhancement or attenuation of the visual response. Eye-movement modulation was found in all three subdivisions in about equal frequencies. Attentional modulation was common in Pdm and was rare in PI and PL. The modulation is spatially selective in Pdm and nonselective in PI for a small number of tested cells. These data demonstrate functional differences between Pdm and the other two areas and suggest that Pdm plays a role in selective visual attention, whereas PI and PL probably contribute to other aspects of visual perception.

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