The activity of visual cortical neurons (area 17) was recorded in anaesthetized cats in response to sinusoidal drifting gratings. The statistical structure of the discharge of simple and complex cells has been studied as a function of the various parameters of a drifting grating: spatial frequency, orientation, drifting velocity and contrast. For simple cells it has been found that the interspike interval distributions in response to drifting gratings of various spatial frequencies differ only by a time scale factor. They can be reduced to a unique distribution by a linear time transformation. Variations in the spatial frequency of the grating induce variations in the mean firing rate of the cell but leave unchanged the statistical structure of the discharge. On the contrary, the statistical structure of the simple cell activity changes when the contrast or the velocity of the stimulus is varied. For complex cells it has been found that the invariance property described above for simple cells is not valid. Complex cells present in their activity in response to visual stimuli two different firing patterns: spikes organized in clusters and spikes that do not show this organization ('isolated spikes'). The clustered component is the only component of the complex cell discharge that is tuned for spatial frequency and orientation, while the isolated spike component is correlated with the contrast of the stimulus.
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