Transient Cortical Excitation at the Onset of Visual Fixation


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Abstract

Primates actively examine the visual world by rapidly shifting gaze (fixation) over the elements in a scene. Despite this fact, we typically study vision by presenting stimuli with gaze held constant. To better understand the dynamics of natural vision, we examined how the onset of visual fixation affects ongoing neuronal activity in the absence of visual stimulation. We used multiunit activity and current source density measurements to index neuronal firing patterns and underlying synaptic processes in macaque V1. Initial averaging of neural activity synchronized to the onset of fixation suggested that a brief period of cortical excitation follows each fixation. Subsequent single-trial analyses revealed that 1) neuronal oscillation phase transits from random to a highly organized state just after the fixation onset, 2) this phase concentration is accompanied by increased spectral power in several frequency bands, and 3) visual response amplitude is enhanced at the specific oscillatory phase associated with fixation. We hypothesize that nonvisual inputs are used by the brain to increase cortical excitability at fixation onset, thus “priming” the system for new visual inputs generated at fixation. Despite remaining mechanistic questions, it appears that analysis of fixation-related responses may be useful in studying natural vision.

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