Drifting grating stimulation reveals particular activation properties of visual neurons in the caudate nucleus

The role of the caudate nucleus (CN) in motor control has been widely studied. Less attention has been paid to the dynamics of visual feedback in motor actions, which is a relevant function of the basal ganglia during the control of eye and body movements. We therefore set out to analyse the visual information processing of neurons in the feline CN. Extracellular single-unit recordings were performed in the CN, where the neuronal responses to drifting gratings of various spatial and temporal frequencies were recorded. The responses of the CN neurons were modulated by the temporal frequency of the grating. The CN units responded optimally to gratings of low spatial frequencies and exhibited low spatial resolution and fine spatial frequency tuning. By contrast, the CN neurons preferred high temporal frequencies, and exhibited high temporal resolution and fine temporal frequency tuning. The spatial and temporal visual properties of the CN neurons enable them to act as spatiotemporal filters. These properties are similar to those observed in certain feline extrageniculate visual structures, i.e. in the superior colliculus, the suprageniculate nucleus and the anterior ectosylvian cortex, but differ strongly from those of the primary visual cortex and the lateral geniculate nucleus. Accordingly, our results suggest a functional relationship of the CN to the extrageniculate tecto-thalamo-cortical system. This system of the mammalian brain may be involved in motion detection, especially in velocity analysis of moving objects, facilitating the detection of changes during the animal’s movement.