A neural circuit for spatial summation in visual cortex

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The response of cortical neurons to a sensory stimulus is modulated by the context. In the visual cortex, for example, stimulation of a pyramidal cell's receptive-field surround can attenuate the cell’s response to a stimulus in the centre of its receptive field, a phenomenon called surround suppression. Whether cortical circuits contribute to surround suppression or whether the phenomenon is entirely relayed from earlier stages of visual processing is debated. Here we show that, in contrast to pyramidal cells, the response of somatostatin-expressing inhibitory neurons (SOMs) in the superficial layers of the mouse visual cortex increases with stimulation of the receptive-field surround. This difference results from the preferential excitation of SOMs by horizontal cortical axons. By perturbing the activity of SOMs, we show that these neurons contribute to pyramidal cells' surround suppression. These results establish a cortical circuit for surround suppression and attribute a particular function to a genetically defined type of inhibitory neuron.

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Figure 1: Differences in spatial summation between three types of neurons in the visual cortex.
Figure 2: SOMs are selectively excited by horizontal cortical projections.
Figure 3: Suppression of pyramidal cells by SOMs as a function of the activated layer 2/3 area.
Figure 4: SOMs contribute to size tuning of layer 2/3 pyramidal cells.


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We are grateful to J. Evora for the reconstruction of SOMs and technical assistance. We thank C. Niell and M. Stryker for providing expertise and sharing code used at the initial stages of this project; S. Olsen for providing the firing rates of part of the units isolated under anaesthesia; P. Abelkop and A. Linder for technical assistance; and J. Isaacson and members of the Scanziani laboratory for helpful advice. H.A. was supported by the Helen Hay Whitney Foundation and the Howard Hughes Medical Institute (HHMI). W.B. and M.S. were supported by the HHMI, the Gatsby charitable foundation and US National Institute of Health grant NS069010.

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Author Contributions H.A. and M.S. designed the study. H.A. conducted all experiments. W.B. conducted all in vivo data analysis and spike sorting. H.T. and Z.J.H. generated the SOM-IRES-CRE mice. M.S. and H.A. wrote the paper.

Correspondence to Massimo Scanziani.

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Adesnik, H., Bruns, W., Taniguchi, H. et al. A neural circuit for spatial summation in visual cortex. Nature 490, 226–231 (2012) doi:10.1038/nature11526

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