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Electrical microstimulation of cortical area MST biases heading perception in monkeys

Abstract

As we move through the environment, the pattern of visual motion on the retina provides rich information about our movement through the scene. Human subjects can use this information, often termed "optic flow", to accurately estimate their direction of self movement (heading) from relatively sparse displays. Physiological observations on the motion-sensitive areas of monkey visual cortex suggest that the medial superior temporal area (MST) is well suited for the analysis of optic flow information. To test whether MST is involved in extracting heading from optic flow, we perturbed its activity in monkeys trained on a heading discrimination task. Electrical microstimulation of MST frequently biased the monkeys' decisions about their heading, and these induced biases were often quite large. This result suggests that MST has a direct role in the perception of heading from optic flow.

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Figure 1: Stimulus geometry and timing.
Figure 2: Example data from a single MST microstimulation experiment.
Figure 3: Histograms showing the shifts of the psychometric functions for all of the 67 experiments in the sample, signed according to the preference of the neurons at the stimulation site.
Figure 4: Interaction between pursuit and microstimulation effect.

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Acknowledgements

The authors wish to thank Elizabeth Disbrow, Ryen Tarbet, and Jesse Moore for skilled technical assistance. We also thank M.S. Banks for consultation on the design of stimuli, and Arthur Jones for expert computer programming. Finally, we acknowledge Sylvia Elfar, Hilary Heuer, Steve Lisberger, Brian Mulloney, and Kristy Nace for reading earlier versions of the manuscript. This work was supported by National Eye Institute grant EY10562 to KHB, and RvW was supported in part by the Netherlands Organization for Scientific Research (NWO).

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Correspondence to Kenneth H. Britten.

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Britten, K., van Wezel, R. Electrical microstimulation of cortical area MST biases heading perception in monkeys. Nat Neurosci 1, 59–63 (1998). https://doi.org/10.1038/259

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