Top-down modulation of visual cortical stimulus encoding and gamma independent of firing rates

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Neurons in primary visual cortex integrate sensory input with signals reflecting the animal’s internal state to support flexible behavior. Internal variables, such as expectation, attention, or current goals, are imposed in a top-down manner via extensive feedback projections from higher-order areas. We optogenetically activated a high-order visual area, area 21a, in the lightly anesthetized cat (OptoTD), while recording from neuronal populations in V1. OptoTD induced strong, up to several fold, changes in gamma-band synchronization together with much smaller changes in firing rate, and the two effects showed no correlation. OptoTD effects showed specificity for the features of the simultaneously presented visual stimuli. OptoTD-induced changes in gamma synchronization, but not firing rates, were predictive of simultaneous changes in the amount of encoded stimulus information. Our findings suggest that one important role of top-down signals is to modulate synchronization and the information encoded by populations of sensory neurons.

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