In the primary visual cortex (V1), Simple and Complex receptive fields (RFs) are usually characterized on the basis of the linearity of the cell spiking response to stimuli of opposite contrast. Whether or not this classification reflects a functional dichotomy in the synaptic inputs to Simple and Complex cells is still an open issue. Here we combined intracellular membrane potential recordings in cat V1 with 2D dense noise stimulation to decompose the Simple-like and Complex-like components of the subthreshold RF into a parallel set of functionally distinct subunits. Results show that both Simple and Complex RFs exhibit a remarkable diversity of excitatory and inhibitory Complex-like contributions, which differ in orientation and spatial frequency selectivity from the linear RF, even in layer 4 and layer 6 Simple cells. We further show that the diversity of Complex-like contributions recovered at the subthreshold level is expressed in the cell spiking output. These results demonstrate that the Simple or Complex nature of V1 RFs does not rely on the diversity of Complex-like components received by the cell from its synaptic afferents but on the imbalance between the weights of the Simple-like and Complex-like synaptic contributions.
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