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An unexpected specialization for horizontal disparity in primate primary visual cortex

Abstract

The horizontal separation of the eyes means that objects nearer or farther than the fixation point project to different locations on the two retinae, differing principally in their horizontal coordinates (horizontal binocular disparity). Disparity-selective neurons have generally been studied with disparities applied in only one direction1 (often horizontal), which cannot determine whether the encoding is specialized for processing disparities along the horizontal axis. It is therefore unclear if disparity selectivity represents a specialization for naturally occurring disparities. I used random dot stereograms to study disparity-selective neurons from the primary visual cortex (V1) of awake fixating monkeys. Many combinations of vertical and horizontal disparity were used, characterizing the surface of responses as a function of two-dimensional disparity. Here I report that the response surface usually showed elongation along the horizontal disparity axis, despite the isotropic stimulus. Thus these neurons modulated their firing rate over a wider range of horizontal disparity than vertical disparity. This demonstrates that disparity-selective cells are specialized for processing horizontal disparity, and that existing models2,3 of disparity selectivity require substantial revision.

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Figure 1: Responses of four neurons to combinations of vertical and horizontal disparities.
Figure 2: Relationship between disparity tuning and receptive-field orientation, for simple models1.
Figure 3: Orientation of the disparity tuned response as a function of monocular orientation preference (dominant eye).
Figure 4: For each neuron, the preferred disparity identifies the disparity combination yielding the strongest response.
Figure 5: In order to select the disparity combinations used, a wide range of disparities were first explored along each of two axes (solid symbols).

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Correspondence to B. G. Cumming.

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Cumming, B. An unexpected specialization for horizontal disparity in primate primary visual cortex. Nature 418, 633–636 (2002). https://doi.org/10.1038/nature00909

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