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Flow stimuli reveal ecologically appropriate responses in mouse visual cortex


Assessments of the mouse visual system based on spatial-frequency analysis imply that its visual capacity is low, with few neurons responding to spatial frequencies greater than 0.5 cycles per degree. However, visually mediated behaviors, such as prey capture, suggest that the mouse visual system is more precise. We introduce a stimulus class-visual flow patterns-that is more like what the mouse would encounter in the natural world than are sine-wave gratings but is more tractable for analysis than are natural images. We used 128-site silicon microelectrodes to measure the simultaneous responses of single neurons in the primary visual cortex (V1) of alert mice. While holding temporal-frequency content fixed, we explored a class of drifting patterns of black or white dots that have energy only at higher spatial frequencies. These flow stimuli evoke strong visually mediated responses well beyond those predicted by spatial-frequency analysis. Flow responses predominate in higher spatial-frequency ranges (0.15-1.6 cycles per degree), many are orientation or direction selective, and flow responses of many neurons depend strongly on sign of contrast. Many cells exhibit distributed responses across our stimulus ensemble. Together, these results challenge conventional linear approaches to visual processing and expand our understanding of the mouse's visual capacity to behaviorally relevant ranges.

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