Visual responses of thalamic neurons depending on the direction of gaze and the position of targets in space
Visual receptive field properties of neurons in the region of the thalamic internal medullary lamina were studied in alert cats while they fixated in various directions. In slightly more than 50% of the cells, the responsiveness of the cells was found to depend on the location of the stimulus with respect to the head-body axis (stimulus absolute position). A cell could ignore a stimulus outside its absolute field even if it was well placed within its receptive field.
Three types of neurons were distinguished. Neurons with small central receptive fields were tonically activated when the animal fixated the stimulus in one half of the screen (usually contralateral). The firing rate of these cells was related to the stimulus absolute position measured along a preferred axis. Similarly, neurons with large receptive fields fired as a function of stimulus absolute position but stimulus fixation was not required. Neurons with eccentric fields responded to stimuli located in a target area defined in head-body coordinates. Such cells gave presaccadic bursts with eye movements terminating in the target area.
The conclusion proposed is that neurons exist which code visual spatial information in a non-retinal frame of reference. This coding takes place at the time of stimulus presentation. Its role may be seen in the initiation of visually guided movements.
Key wordsVisual receptive field Spatial coding Absolute position Gaze control Nonspecific thalamus
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