The response of cat visual cortex to flicker stimuli of variable frequency


Correspondence: W. Singer, as above.


We examined the possibility that neurons or groups of neurons along the retino-cortical transmission chain have properties of tuned oscillators. To this end, we studied the resonance properties of the retino-thalamo-cortical system of anaesthetized cats by entraining responses with flicker stimuli of variable frequency (2–50 Hz). Responses were assessed from multi-unit activity (MUA) and local field potentials (LFPs) with up to four spatially segregated electrodes placed in areas 17 and 18. MUA and LFP responses were closely related, units discharging with high preference during LFP negativity. About 300 ms after flicker onset, responses stabilized and exhibited a highly regular oscillatory patterning that was surprisingly similar at different recording sites due to precise stimulus locking. Fourier transforms of these steady state oscillations showed maximal power at the inducing frequency and consistently revealed additional peaks at harmonic frequencies. The frequency-dependent amplitude changes of the fundamental and harmonic response components suggest that the retino-cortical system is entrainable into steady state oscillations over a broad frequency range and exhibits preferences for distinct frequencies in the θ- or slow α-range, and in the β- and γ-band. Concomitant activation of the mesencephalic reticular formation increased the ability of cortical cells to follow high frequency stimulation, and enhanced dramatically the amplitude of first- and second-order harmonics in the γ-frequency range between 30 and 50 Hz. Cross-correlations computed between responses recorded simultaneously from different sites revealed pronounced synchronicity due to precise stimulus locking. These results suggest that the retino-cortical system contains broadly tuned, strongly damped oscillators which altogether exhibit at least three ranges of preferred frequencies, the relative expression of the preferences depending on the central state. These properties agree with the characteristics of oscillatory responses evoked by non-temporally modulated stimuli, and they indicate that neuronal responses along the retino-cortical transmission chain can become synchronized with precision in the millisecond range not only by intrinsic interactions, but also by temporally structured stimuli.