The sensitivity of neurons in area 17 of the cat's visual cortex to vernier offset was expressed as the percentage reduction in response caused by the introduction of a given offset into a bar stimulus moving across the receptive field. There was a wide variation in sensitivity: in some cells response could be halved by an offset equal to a fifth of receptive-field width (defined as twice the standard deviation of a Gaussian curve fitted to the response profile), while other cells showed no sensitivity. The highest absolute sensitivities of complex and simple cells were similar, although most cells with poor sensitivity were complex.
Sensitivity was largely unaffected by changes in stimulus velocity and stimulus length, although there was a tendency for sensitivity to increase with decreasing bar length.
Comparisons of orientation tuning curves with vernier tuning curves showed that the response to a vernier stimulus approximated the response to a single bar of the same overall length and an orientation equal to that of a line joining the midpoints of each bar. This was true for a wide range of sensitivity values.
Vernier sensitivity was correlated with a measure of length summation H, which is positive when there is net facilitation between the bars, and negative when there is net inhibition. Vernier sensitivity was highest in cells with large values of H, and least in cells where H was negative.
We examined a linear model of the simple cell receptive field which, together with a variable response threshold, was able to explain the correlation between vernier acuity and length summation. Although this model accounted qualitatively for many of our findings, the majority of simple cells had tuning curves that were sharper than the predicted ones. This suggests that there are nonlinearities in the behavior of many simple cells whose effect is to increase the sharpness of orientation tuning and consequently vernier sensitivity.