It has been proposed that low-threshold Ca2+ (LT)-associated bursts in the lateral geniculate nucleus (LGN) of awake animals communicate significant or unexpected visual events to cortex. The present study investigated this hypothesis by examining the incidence of LT bursts in 146 cells recorded from the LGN of three macaque monkeys. Bursts were defined as clusters of two or more action potentials separated by not more than 4 ms and preceded by a ≥100-ms quiescent interval. The incidence of bursts was examined in several intensive-training Go-NoGo and target selection tasks as well as in training-free tasks where natural scenes with both familiar and novel contents were shown. Our chief findings were as follows. 1) Bursts occur in the majority of cells under every condition tested, 2) burst incidence is very low (<1 burst every 10 s), 3) bursts occur in association with a receptive field stimulus on average only once every 23 times in 65% of cells tested, 4) cells responding with bursts to the stimulus also tended to exhibit higher levels of spontaneous bursting, 5) the presence of bursts did not depend on the novelty of the stimulus or its behavioral relevance. When the monkeys explored static natural scenes, 6) bursts were not correlated with short-term changes in the image sampled by the cell's receptive field during saccades. Burst incidence 7) did not increase when images were novel or when they evoked an emotional reaction, and 8) bursts did not decrease when images were familiar. 9) Bursts were not correlated with saccades in the dark, but 10) more spikes participated in bursts in the dark. Although these results confirm the occurrence of LT bursts in LGN cells of awake monkeys, they do not support the hypothesis that these bursts are a privileged means of transferring sensory information, that they signal unexpected or significant visual events, or that they are involved uniquely in the coding of natural scenes.
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