Neurons in primary visual cortex are highly sensitive to the contrast, orientation, and temporal frequency of a visual stimulus. These three stimulus properties can be varied independently of one another, raising the question of how they interact to influence neuronal responses. We recorded from individual neurons in ferret primary visual cortex to determine the influence of stimulus contrast on orientation tuning, temporal-frequency tuning, and latency to visual response. Results show that orientation-tuning bandwidth is not affected by contrast level. Thus neurons in ferret visual cortex display contrast-invariant orientation tuning. Stimulus contrast does, however, influence the structure of orientation-tuning curves as measures of circular variance vary inversely with contrast for both simple and complex cells. This change in circular variance depends, in part, on a contrast-dependent change in the ratio of null to preferred orientation responses. Stimulus contrast also has an influence on the temporal-frequency tuning of cortical neurons. Both simple and complex cells display a contrast-dependent rightward shift in their temporal frequency-tuning curves that results in an increase in the highest temporal frequency needed to produce a half-maximum response (TF50). Results show that the degree of the contrast-dependent increase in TF 50 is similar for cortical neurons and neurons in the lateral geniculate nucleus (LGN) and indicate that subcortical mechanisms likely play a major role in establishing the degree of effect displayed by downstream neurons. Finally, results show that LGN and cortical neurons experience a contrast-dependent phase advance in their visual response. This phase advance is most pronounced for cortical neurons indicating a role for both subcortical and cortical mechanisms.
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