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Nature. 1998 Jul 2;394(6688):72-5.

Temporal gating of neural signals during performance of a visual discrimination task.

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Howard Hughes Medical Institute, Department of Neurobiology, Stanford University School of Medicine, California 94305, USA.


The flow of neural signals within the cerebral cortex must be subject to multiple controls as behaviour unfolds in time. In a visual discrimination task that includes a delay period, the transmission of sensory signals to circuitry that mediates memory, decision-making and motor-planning must be governed closely by 'filtering' or 'gating' mechanisms so that extraneous events occurring before, during or after presentation of the critical visual stimulus have little or no effect on the subject's behavioural responses. Here we study one such mechanism physiologically by applying electrical microstimulation to columns of directionally selective neurons in the middle temporal visual area at varying times during single trials of a direction-discrimination task. The behavioural effects of microstimulation varied strikingly according to the timing of delivery within the trial, indicating that signals produced by microstimulation may be subject to active 'gating'. Our results show several important features of this gating process: first, signal flow is modulated upwards on onset of the visual stimulus and downwards, typically with a slower time course, after stimulus offset; second, gating efficacy can be modified by behavioural training; and third, gating is implemented primarily downstream of the middle temporal visual area.

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