Cortical Neuronal Responses to Optic Flow Are Shaped by Visual Strategies for Steering

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We hypothesized that neuronal responses to virtual self-movement would be enhanced during steering tasks. We recorded the activity of medial superior temporal (MSTd) neurons in monkeys trained to steer a straight-ahead course, using optic flow. We found smaller optic flow responses during active steering than during the passive viewing of the same stimuli. Behavioral analysis showed that the monkeys had learned to steer using local motion cues. Retraining the monkeys to use the global pattern of optic flow reversed the effects of the active-steering task: active steering then evoked larger responses than passive viewing.We then compared the responses of neurons during active steering by local motion and by global patterns: Local motion trials promoted the use of local dot movement near the center of the stimulus by occluding the peripheral visual field midway through the trial. Global pattern trials promoted the use of radial pattern movement by occluding the central visual field midway through the trial. In this study, identical full-field optic-flow stimuli evoked larger responses in global-pattern trials than in local motion trials. We conclude that the selection of specific visual cues reflects strategies for active steering and alters MSTd neuronal responses to optic flow.

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