Nonlinearity of two-photon Ca2+ imaging yields distorted measurements of tuning for V1 neuronal populations

Ian Nauhaus, Kristina J. Nielsen, Edward M. Callaway


We studied the relative accuracy of drifting gratings and noise stimuli for functionally characterizing neural populations using two-photon calcium imaging. Calcium imaging has the potential to distort measurements due to nonlinearity in the conversion from spikes to observed fluorescence. We demonstrate a dramatic impact of fluorescence saturation on functional measurements in ferret V1 by showing that responses to drifting gratings strongly violate contrast invariance of orientation tuning, a fundamental property of the spike rates. The observed relationship is consistent with saturation that clips the high-contrast tuning curve peaks by ∼40%. The nonlinearity was also apparent in mouse V1 responses to drifting gratings, but not as strong as in the ferret. Contrast invariance holds, however, for tuning curves measured with a randomized grating stimulus. This finding is consistent with prior work showing that the linear portion of a linear-nonlinear system can be recovered with reverse correlation. Furthermore, we demonstrate that a noise stimulus is more effective at keeping spike rates in the linear operating regime of a saturating nonlinearity, which both maximizes signal-to-noise ratios and simplifies the recovery of fast spike dynamics from slow calcium transients. Finally, we uncover spatiotemporal receptive fields by removing the nonlinearity and slow calcium transient from a model of fluorescence generation, which allowed us to observe dynamic sharpening of orientation tuning. We conclude that for two-photon recordings it is imperative that one considers the nonlinear distortion when designing stimuli and interpreting results, especially in sensory areas, species, or cell types with high firing rates.

  • contrast
  • primary visual cortex
  • orientation
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