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Contrast gain control in the primate retina: P cells are not X-like, some M cells are

  • Ethan A. Benardete (a1), Ehud Kaplan (a1) and Bruce W. Knight (a1)


Primate retinal ganglion cells that project to the magnocellular layers of the lateral geniculate nucleus (M) are much more sensitive to luminance contrast than those ganglion cells projecting to the parvocellular layers (P). We now report that increasing contrast modifies the temporal-frequency response of M cells, but not of P cells. With rising contrast, the M cells' responses to sinusoidal stimuli show an increasing attenuation at low temporal frequencies while the P cells' responses scale uniformly. The characteristic features of M-cell dynamics are well described by a model originally developed for the X and Y cells of the cat, where the hypothesized nonlinear feedback mechanism responsible for this behavior has been termed the contrast gain control (Shapley & Victor, 1978, 1981; Victor, 1987, 1988). These data provide further physiological evidence that the M-cell pathway differs from the P-cell pathway with regard to the functional elements in the retina. Furthermore, the similarity in dynamics between primate M cells and cat X and Y retinal ganglion cells suggests the possibility that P cells, being different from either group, are a primate specialization not found in the retinae of lower mammals.



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