Neural responses in primary visual cortex (area V1) are selective for the orientation and spatial frequency of luminance-modulated sinusoidal gratings. Selectivity could arise from enhancement of the cell's response by preferred stimuli, suppression by nonoptimal stimuli, or both. Here, we report that the majority of V1 neurons do not only elevate their activity in response to preferred stimuli, but their firing rates are also suppressed by nonoptimal stimuli. The magnitude of suppression is similar to that of enhancement. There is a tendency for net response suppression to peak at orientations near orthogonal to the optimal for the cell, but cases where suppression peaks at oblique orientations are observed as well. Interestingly, selectivity and suppression correlate in V1: orientation and spatial frequency selectivity are higher for neurons that are suppressed by nonoptimal stimuli than for cells that are not. This finding is consistent with the idea that suppression plays an important role in the generation of sharp cortical selectivity. We show that nonlinear suppression is required to account for the data. However, the precise structure of the neural circuitry generating the suppressive signal remains unresolved. Our results are consistent with both feedback and (nonlinear) feed-forward inhibition.
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