The processing of feature discontinuities for different cue types in primary visual cortex.
This study examines whether neurons in the primary visual cortex (V1) of the cat (also referred to as area 17) are sensitive to boundaries that are delineated by a difference in features other than luminance contrast. Most research on this issue has concentrated on the responses to texture borders (e.g. 'illusory contours') and has found neurons that are sensitive to such borders in V2 and to a lesser extent in V1. Here neurons in cat area 17 (V1) were exposed to borders that were oblique to the orientation preference of the neuron and that were created by differences in phase, orientation or direction of motion of two drifting sinewave gratings. Nearby phase borders evoked increased firing in 15 out of 98 neurons, orientation borders in 18 out of 98, and direction borders in 15 out of 70 neurons recorded in area 17 (V1) of anesthetized cats. The firing rates of these neurons were enhanced when a feature border was presented close to their receptive field, partly independent of the cue involved. Control experiments with a contrast border showed that the enhanced firing was due to a release of suppression rather than facilitation. A conceptual model is presented that can describe the data and uncovers a peculiarity of the phase domain compared to the orientation and direction domain. The model unifies the knowledge gained here about orientation-specific center-surround interactions, contextual effects, and end-stopping. The data and model suggest that these phenomena are part of a single mechanism that enables the brain to detect feature discontinuities across a range of features.