1. Cells in the superficial layers of the colliculus were studied in immobilized monkeys anesthetized with nitrous oxide. We examined sensitivity to the relative motion between two stimuli: a small target in a cell's receptive field and a large random-dot background pattern that filled most of the visual field outside the receptive field. 2. Most cells were nonselective for either target direction or speed when the background pattern was stationary but were selective for both direction and speed relative to a moving background. Selectivity for relative motion was independent of the absolute direction and speed of both target and background. When both moved at the same speed in the same direction, the response evoked by the target was strongly suppressed. Changing the background direction relative to the target reduced the suppression; suppression was minimal when the two moved in opposite directions. Selectivity for relative direction was broad: the average tuning width at half-amplitude was 136 degrees. When target and background moved in the same direction, increasing or decreasing background speed relative to the target likewise reduced suppression. Average tuning width for relative speed was 1.4 log units. 3. Selectivity for relative motion was a global phenomenon. Suppression was present even when the background pattern was excluded from a region 10 times the receptive-field diameter. However, suppression gradually diminished with increasing distance between the receptive field and the background pattern. 4. Relative motion selectivity was most common in the deeper part of the superficial layers. Ninety percent of the cells below the middle of the stratum griseum superficiale were selective for relative direction, whereas above this level only 45% of the cells were. 5. Cells in the magnocellular and parvocellular layers of the lateral geniculate nucleus did not show selectivity for relative direction. 6. We suggest that the lower one-half of the superficial grey layer and the stratum opticum together constitute a subdivision of the superior colliculus that is specialized to detect strong discontinuities in relative motion. Descending input by way of the corticotectal tract is probably essential for the detection process. the projections from this tectal motion zone to the pulvinar, and from there to prestriate cortex, may provide a feedback pathway through which motion discontinuities such as occur at dynamic occlusion boundaries can influence local feature detection by cortical neurons.
- Copyright © 1991 the American Physiological Society