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Feedback generates a second receptive field in neurons of the visual cortex


Animals sense the environment through pathways that link sensory organs to the brain. In the visual system, these feedforward pathways define the classical feedforward receptive field (ffRF), the area in space in which visual stimuli excite a neuron1. The visual system also uses visual context-the visual scene surrounding a stimulus-to predict the content of the stimulus2, and accordingly, neurons have been identified that are excited by stimuli outside their ffRF3-8. However, the mechanisms that generate excitation to stimuli outside the ffRF are unclear. Here we show that feedback projections onto excitatory neurons in the mouse primary visual cortex generate a second receptive field that is driven by stimuli outside the ffRF. The stimulation of this feedback receptive field (fbRF) elicits responses that are slower and are delayed in comparison with those resulting from the stimulation of the ffRF. These responses are preferentially reduced by anaesthesia and by silencing higher visual areas. Feedback inputs from higher visual areas have scattered receptive fields relative to their putative targets in the primary visual cortex, which enables the generation of the fbRF. Neurons with fbRFs are located in cortical layers that receive strong feedback projections and are absent in the main input layer, which is consistent with a laminar processing hierarchy. The observation that large, uniform stimuli-which cover both the fbRF and the ffRF-suppress these responses indicates that the fbRF and the ffRF are mutually antagonistic. Whereas somatostatin-expressing inhibitory neurons are driven by these large stimuli, inhibitory neurons that express parvalbumin and vasoactive intestinal peptide have mutually antagonistic fbRF and ffRF, similar to excitatory neurons. Feedback projections may therefore enable neurons to use context to estimate information that is missing from the ffRF and to report differences in stimulus features across visual space, regardless of whether excitation occurs inside or outside the ffRF. By complementing the ffRF, the fbRF that we identify here could contribute to predictive processing.

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