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Spatiotemporal frequency and speed tuning in the owl visual wulst


  • Lucas Pinto,

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    • *Present address: Helen Wills Neuroscience Institute, University of California Berkeley, Berkeley, California, 94720, USA

  • Jerome Baron

    1. Department of Physiology and Biophysics, Institute of Biological Sciences, Federal University of Minas Gerais, Av. Antonio Carlos, 6627. Belo Horizonte, MG, 31270-901, Brazil
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Dr Jerome Baron, as above.


The avian visual wulst is hodologically equivalent to the mammalian primary visual cortex (V1). In contrast to most birds, owls have a massive visual wulst, which shares striking functional similarities with V1. To provide a better understanding of how motion is processed within this area, we used sinusoidal gratings to characterize the spatiotemporal frequency and speed tuning profiles of 131 neurones recorded from awake burrowing owls. Cells were found to be clearly tuned to both spatial and temporal frequencies, and in a way that is similar to what has been reported in the striate cortex of primates and carnivores. Our results also suggest the presence of spatial frequency tuning domains in the wulst. Speed tuning was assessed by several methods devised to measure the degree of dependence between spatial and temporal frequency tuning. Although many neurones were found to be independently tuned, a significant proportion of cells showed at least some degree of dependence, compatible with the idea that some kind of initial transformation towards an explicit representation of speed is being carried out by the owl wulst. Interestingly, under certain constraints, a higher incidence of spatial frequency-invariant speed tuned profiles was obtained by combining our experimentally measured responses using a recent cortical model of speed tuning. Overall, our findings reinforce the notion that, like V1, the owl wulst is an important initial stage for motion processing, a function that is usually attributed to areas of the tectofugal pathway in lateral-eyed birds.