Activation of specific interneurons improves V1 feature selectivity and visual perception


Inhibitory interneurons are essential components of the neural circuits underlying various brain functions. In the neocortex, a large diversity of GABA (γ-aminobutyric acid) interneurons has been identified on the basis of their morphology, molecular markers, biophysical properties and innervation pattern1,2,3. However, how the activity of each subtype of interneurons contributes to sensory processing remains unclear. Here we show that optogenetic activation of parvalbumin-positive (PV+) interneurons in the mouse primary visual cortex (V1) sharpens neuronal feature selectivity and improves perceptual discrimination. Using multichannel recording with silicon probes4,5 and channelrhodopsin-2 (ChR2)-mediated optical activation6, we found that increased spiking of PV+ interneurons markedly sharpened orientation tuning and enhanced direction selectivity of nearby neurons. These effects were caused by the activation of inhibitory neurons rather than a decreased spiking of excitatory neurons, as archaerhodopsin-3 (Arch)-mediated optical silencing7 of calcium/calmodulin-dependent protein kinase IIα (CAMKIIα)-positive excitatory neurons caused no significant change in V1 stimulus selectivity. Moreover, the improved selectivity specifically required PV+ neuron activation, as activating somatostatin or vasointestinal peptide interneurons had no significant effect. Notably, PV+ neuron activation in awake mice caused a significant improvement in their orientation discrimination, mirroring the sharpened V1 orientation tuning. Together, these results provide the first demonstration that visual coding and perception can be improved by increased spiking of a specific subtype of cortical inhibitory interneurons.

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Figure 1: Optogenetic activation of PV + , SOM + and VIP + neurons and silencing of CAMKIIα + neurons.
Figure 2: PV + activation enhances V1 stimulus selectivity.
Figure 3: Effects of PV + and SOM + activation on F I function.
Figure 4: PV + activation improves perceptual discrimination.


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We thank M. Goard, L. Pinto, M. Xu and M. Viesel for help with experimental setup, A. Kaluszka for help with data analysis and H. Alitto and M. Poo for discussion and comments on the manuscript. This work was supported by National Institutes of Health grants R01 EY018861 and PN2 EY018241 and National Science Foundation grant 22250400-42533.

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S.-H.L. and Y.D. conceived and designed the experiments. S.-H.L. performed and organized all the experiments. A.C.K. developed the head-fixed awake mouse preparation and behavioural task setup. S.Z. performed whole-cell recording experiments. V.P. performed some of the virus injection and head-plate implant surgeries. J.G.F. supported viral vector preparation. S.C.M. manufactured silicon probe (type II). H.T. and Z.J.H. generated SOM-Cre and VIP-Cre mouse lines. E.S.B. generated the Arch–eGFP viral vector. F.Z. and K.D. developed the ChR2–eYFP viral vector. S.-H.L., A.K. and Y.D. analysed the data. S.-H.L. and Y.D. wrote the manuscript. All authors discussed the results and commented on the manuscript.

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Correspondence to Yang Dan.

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Supplementary Figures

This file contains Supplementary Figures 1-8. (PDF 1101 kb)

Supplementary Movie 1

This movie file shows a head-fixed mouse performing visual discrimination. In it we see a PV-ChR2 mouse performing the hard discrimination task, in test blocks with Δθ = 90°, 60°, and 30°. The task design is shown in Fig. 4b. (MOV 13610 kb)

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Lee, S., Kwan, A., Zhang, S. et al. Activation of specific interneurons improves V1 feature selectivity and visual perception. Nature 488, 379–383 (2012).

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