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Temporal dynamics of chromatic tuning in macaque primary visual cortex


The ability to distinguish colour from intensity variations is a difficult computational problem for the visual system because each of the three cone photoreceptor types absorb all wavelengths of light, although their peak sensitivities are at relatively short (S cones), medium (M cones), or long (L cones) wavelengths. The first stage in colour processing is the comparison of the outputs of different cone types by spectrally opponent neurons in the retina and upstream in the lateral geniculate nucleus1,2,3. Some neurons receive opponent inputs from L and M cones, whereas others receive input from S cones opposed by combined signals from L and M cones. Here we report how the outputs of the L/M- and S-opponent geniculate cell types are combined in time at the next stage of colour processing, in the macaque primary visual cortex (V1). Some V1 neurons respond to a single chromatic region, with either a short (68–95 ms) or a longer (96–135 ms) latency, whereas others respond to two chromatic regions with a difference in latency of 20–30 ms. Across all types, short latency responses are mostly evoked by L/M-opponent inputs whereas longer latency responses are evoked mostly by S-opponent inputs. Furthermore, neurons with late S-cone inputs exhibit dynamic changes in the sharpness of their chromatic tuning over time. We propose that the sparse, S-opponent signal in the lateral geniculate nucleus is amplified in area V1, possibly through recurrent excitatory networks. This results in a delayed, sluggish cortical S-cone signal which is then integrated with L/M-opponent signals to rotate the lateral geniculate nucleus chromatic axes4,5.

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Figure 1: V1 chromatic–temporal receptive-field maps.
Figure 2: Dynamics of sharpening of V1 chromatic responses.
Figure 3: Times-to-peak of V1 chromatic responses.


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We thank K. K. De Valois, S. D. Elfar, J. Gallant and E. Switkes for comments on the manuscript, and E. Switkes for implementation of the MBDKL colour space. This work was funded by the NIH.

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Correspondence to Nicolas P. Cottaris.

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Cottaris, N., De Valois, R. Temporal dynamics of chromatic tuning in macaque primary visual cortex. Nature 395, 896–900 (1998).

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