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Fluctuations of neural firing rates in visual cortex are known to be correlated with variations in perceptual performance. It is important to know whether these fluctuations are functionally linked to perception in a causal manner or instead reflect non-causal processes that arise after the perceptual decision is made. We recorded from middle temporal (MT) neurons from monkey subjects while they detected the random occurrence of a brief 50 ms motion pulse that occurred in either of two (or simultaneously in both) random dot patches located in the same hemisphere. The receptive field parameters of the motion pulse were matched to that preferred by each MT neuron under study. This task contained uncertainty in both space and time because, on any given trial, the subjects did not know which patch would contain the motion pulse or when the motion pulse would occur. Covariations between MT activity and behavior began just before the motion pulse onset and peaked at the maximum neural response. These neural-behavioral covariations were strongest when only one patch contained the motion pulse and were still weakly present when a patch did not contain a motion pulse. A feedforward temporal integration model with two independent detector channels captured both the detection performance and evolution of the neural-behavior covariations over time and stimulus condition. The results suggest that, when detecting a brief visual stimulus, there is a causal relationship between fluctuations in neural activity and variations in behavior across trials.


Jackson E T Smith, Chang'an A Zhan, Erik P Cook. The functional link between area MT neural fluctuations and detection of a brief motion stimulus. The Journal of neuroscience : the official journal of the Society for Neuroscience. 2011 Sep 21;31(38):13458-68

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PMID: 21940439

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