Simple cells in cat striate cortex were studied with a number of stimulation paradigms to explore the extent to which linear mechanisms determine direction selectivity. For each paradigm, our aim was to predict the selectivity for the direction of moving stimuli given only the responses to stationary stimuli. We have found that the prediction robustly determines the direction and magnitude of the preferred response but overestimates the non-preferred response. The main paradigm consisted of comparing the responses of simple cells to contrast reversal sinusoidal gratings with their responses to drifting gratings (of the same orientation, contrast, and spatial and temporal frequencies) in both directions of motion. Although it is known that simple cells display spatiotemporally inseparable responses to contrast reversal gratings, this spatiotemporal inseparability is demonstrated here to predict a certain amount of direction selectivity under the assumption that simple cells sum their inputs linearly. The linear prediction of the directional index (DI), a quantitative measure of the degree of direction selectivity, was compared with the measured DI obtained from the responses to drifting gratings. The median value of the ratio of the two was 0.30, indicating that there is a significant nonlinear component to direction selectivity. The absolute magnitudes of the responses to gratings moving in both directions of motion were compared with the linear predictions as well. Whereas the preferred direction response showed only a slight amount of facilitation compared with the linear prediction, there was a significant amount of nonlinear suppression in the nonpreferred direction. Spatiotemporal inseparability was demonstrated also with stationary temporally modulated bars. The time course of response to these bars was different for different positions in the receptive field. The degree of spatiotemporal inseparability measured with sinusoidally modulated bars agreed quantitatively with that measured in experiments with stationary gratings. A linear prediction of the responses to drifting luminance borders was compared with the actual responses. As with the grating experiments, the prediction was qualitatively accurate, giving the correct preferred direction but underestimating the magnitude of direction selectivity observed. The linear analysis of direction selectivity is shown to be very similar to that of other response specificities of simple cells, such as orientation or spatial-frequency tuning. That is, the response characteristics are roughly predictable via linear summation, but they are sharpened by nonlinear suppressive interactions. Thus, although direction selectivity had in the past been characterized as being unique among simple cell properties in its complete reliance on nonlinear mechanisms, it is in fact quite comparable with other response specificities.
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