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Sunday, July 19 • 4:40pm - 5:00pm
O5: How Stimulus Statistics Affect the Receptive Fields of Cells in Primary Visual Cortex

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Ali Almasi, Hamish Meffin, Shi Sun, Michael R Ibbotson

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Our understanding of sensory coding in the visual system is largely derived from parametrizing neuronal responses to basic stimuli. Recently, mathematical tools have developed that allow estimating the parameters of a receptive field (RF) model, which are typically a cascade of linear filters on the stimulus, followed by static nonlinearities that map the output of the filters to the neuronal spike rates. However, how much do these characterizations depend on the choice of the stimulus type?

We studied the changes that neuronal RF models undergo due to the change in the statistics of the visual stimulus. We applied the nonlinear input model (NIM) [1] to the recordings of single units in cat primary visual cortex (V1) in response to white Gaussian noise (WGN) and natural scenes (NS). These two stimulus types were matched in their global RMS contrast; however, they are fundamentally different in terms of second- and higher-order statistics, which are abundant in natural scenes but do not exist in white noise. We estimated for each cell the spatial filters constituting the neuronal RF and their corresponding nonlinear pooling mechanism, while making minimal assumptions about the underlying neuronal processing.

We found that cells respond differently to these two stimulus types, with mostly higher spike rates and shorter response latencies to NS than to WGN. The most striking finding was that NS stimuli resulted in around twice as many uncovered RF filters compared to using WGN stimuli. Via careful analysis of the data, we discovered that this difference between the number of identified RF filters is not related to the higher spike rates of cells to NS stimuli. Instead, we found it to be attributed to the difference in the contrast levels of specific features that exhibit different prevalence in NS versus WGN. These features correspond to the V1 RF filters recovered in the model. This specific feature-contrast attains much higher values in NS compared to WGN stimuli. When the feature-contrast is controlled for, it explains the differences in the number of RF filters obtained. Our findings imply that a greater extent of nonlinear processing in V1 neurons can be uncovered using natural scene stimulation.

Acknowledgements The authors acknowledge the support the Australian Research Council Centre of Excellence for Integrative Brain function (CE140100007), the National Health and Medical Research Council (GNT1106390), and Lions Club of Victoria.


[1] McFarland JM, Cui Y, Butts DA. Inferring nonlinear neuronal computation based on physiologically plausible inputs. PLoS Comput Biol. 2013, 9(7).

avatar for Ali Almasi

Ali Almasi

Research Fellow, National Vision Research Institute, Melbourne

Sunday July 19, 2020 4:40pm - 5:00pm CEST
  Oral, Sensory Systems
  • Moderator Christoph Metzner; Soledad Gonzalo Cogno