Sensitivity of MST neurons to optic flow stimuli. I. A continuum of response selectivity to large-field stimuli

C. J. Duffy, R. H. Wurtz

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Neurons in the dorsomedial region of the medial superior temporal area (MSTd) have large receptive fields that include the fovea, are directionally selective for moving visual stimuli, prefer the motion of large fields to small spots, and respond to rotating and expanding patterns of motion as well as frontal parallel planar motion. These characteristics suggested that these neurons might contribute to the analysis of the large-field optic flow stimulation generated as an observer moves through the visual environment. We tested the response of MSTd neurons in two awake monkeys by systematically presenting a set of translational and rotational stimuli to each neuron. These 100 x 100° stimuli were the motion components from which all optic flow fields are derived. In 220 single neurons we found 23% that responded primarily to one component of motion (planar, circular, or radial), 34% that responded to two components (planocircular or planoradial, but never circuloradial), and 29% that responded to all three components. The number of stimulus components to which a neuron responded was unrelated to the size or eccentricity of its receptive field. Triple-, double-, and single-component neurons varied widely in the strength of their responses to the preferred components. Grouping these neurons together revealed that they did not form discrete classes but rather a continuum of response selectivity. This continuum was apparent in other response characteristics. Direction selectivity was weakest in triple-component neurons, strongest in single-component neurons. Significant inhibitory responses were less frequent in triple-component neurons than in single-component neurons. There was some indication that the neurons of similar component classes occupied adjacent regions within MSTd, but all combinations of component and direction selectivity were occasionally found in immediate juxtaposition. Experiments on a subset of neurons showed that the speed of motion, the dot density, and the number of different speed planes in the display had little influence on these responses. We conclude that the selective responses of many MSTd neurons to the rotational and translational components of optic flow make these neurons reasonable candidates for contributing to the analysis of optic flow fields.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1329-1345
Number of pages17
JournalJournal of neurophysiology
Issue number6
StatePublished - 1991

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • General Neuroscience
  • Physiology


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