Orientation selectivity (OS) in the visual cortex has been found to be invariant to increases in stimulus contrast, a finding that cannot be accounted for by the original, purely excitatory Hubel and Wiesel model. This property of OS may be important for preserving the quality of perceived stimulus across a range of stimulus intensity. The synaptic mechanisms that can prevent a broadening of OS caused by contrast-dependent strengthening of excitatory inputs to cortical neurons remain unknown. Using in vivo loose-patch recordings, we found in excitatory neurons in layer 4 of mouse primary visual cortex (V1) that the spike response to the preferred orientation was elevated as contrast increased while that to the orthogonal orientation remained unchanged, resulting in an overall sharpening rather than a weakening of OS. Whole-cell voltage-clamp recordings further revealed that contrast increases resulted in a scaling up of excitatory conductance at all stimulus orientations. Inhibitory conductance was enhanced at a similar level as excitation for the preferred orientation, but at a significantly higher level for the orthogonal orientation. Modeling revealed that the resulting broadening of inhibitory tuning is critical for maintaining and sharpening OS at high contrast. Finally, two-photon imaging guided recordings from parvalbuminpositive (PV) inhibitory neurons revealed that the broadening of inhibition can be attributed to a contrast-dependent broadening of spike-response tuning ofPVneurons. Together our results suggest that modulation of synaptic inhibition in the mouse V1 cortical circuit preserves the sharpness of response selectivity during changes of stimulus strength. © 2012 the authors.
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