Medial superior temporal area neurons respond to speed patterns in optic flow

Charles Duffy, Robert H. Wurtz

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

130 Scopus citations


The speed of visual motion in optic flow fields can provide important cues about self-movement. We have studied the speed sensitivities of 131 neurons in the dorsal region of the medial superior temporal area (MSTd) that responded to either radial or circular optic flow stimuli. The responses of more than two-thirds of these neurons were strongly modulated by changes in the mean speed of motion in optic flow stimuli, with response profiles resembling simple filter characteristics. When we removed the normal gradient of speeds in optic flow (slower speeds in the center, faster speeds in the periphery), approximately two-thirds of the neurons showed changes in their responses. When the speed gradient was altered rather than eliminated, almost nine in 10 neurons preferred either a normal speed gradient or an inverted one (slower speeds near the periphery) over stimuli with no speed gradient. These speed gradient preferences do not come simply from different speed preferences in the central and peripheral segments of the stimulus area. Rather, these speed gradient preferences seemed to reflect interactions between simultaneously presented speeds within an optic flow stimulus. The sensitivity of MSTd neurons to patterns of speed, as well as patterns of direction, strengthens the view that these neurons are well suited to the analysis of optic flow. Sensitivity to speed gradients in optic flow might contribute to neuronal mechanisms for spatial orientation during self- movement and for representing the three-dimensional structure of the visual environment.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)2839-2851
Number of pages13
JournalJournal of Neuroscience
Issue number8
StatePublished - 1997

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • General Neuroscience


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