Ibotenic-acid lesions of the magnocelluar portion of the macaque lateral geniculate nucleus were used to examine the role of the M-cell pathway in spatio-temporal contrast sensitivity. A lesion was place in layer 1 of the lateral geniculate of each of two monkeys. Physiological mapping in one animal demonstrated that the visual-field locus of the lesion was on the horizontal meridian, approximately 6 deg in the temporal field. Visual thresholds were tested monocularly in the contralateral eye, and fixation locus was monitored with a scleral search coil to control the retinal location of the test target.
Three threshold measures were clearly disrupted by the magnocellular lesions. Contrast sensitivity for a 1 cycle/deg grating that drifted at 10 Hz was reduced from about twofold greater than, to about the same as, that for 10-Hz counterphase modulated gratings. Sensitivity for a very low spatial frequency (Gaussian blob), 10-Hz flickering stimulus was reduced so severely that no threshold could be measured. In addition, flicker resolution was greatly reduced at lower modulation depths (0.22), but not at higher depths (1.0). Two of the measured thresholds were unaffected by the lesions. Contrast sensitivity for 2 cycle/deg stationary gratings remained intact, and little or no effect on sensitivity was found for 1 cycle/deg, 10-Hz counterphase modulated gratings.
Together, these results suggest that the magnocellular pathway makes little contribution to visual sensitivity at low to moderate temporal frequencies. On the other hand, some contribution to detection sensitivity is evident at lower spatial and high temporal frequencies, especially for drifting stimuli. It appears that a major role of the magnocellular pathway may be to provide input to cortical mechanisms sensitive to rapid visual motion.