Primate pupillary light reflex: Receptive field characteristics of pretectal luminance neurons

Academic Article


  • This study examined the response properties of luminance neurons found within the pretectal olivary nucleus (PON), which is the pretectal nucleus that mediates the primate pupillary light reflex. We recorded the activity of 121 single units in alert, behaving rhesus monkeys trained to fixate a back-projected laser spot while a luminance stimulus was presented. The change in the firing rate of luminance neurons was measured as a function of changes in the size, retinal illuminance, and position of the stimulus. We found that these neurons possessed large receptive fields, which were sufficiently distinct that they could be placed into three classes. Approximately 40% of the PON luminance neurons responded well to stimuli presented in either the contralateral or ipsilateral hemifield. These neurons were classified as "bilateral" neurons. In the primate, retinal projections to the pretectum and other retinorecipient nuclei are organized such that direct retinal input can only account for the contralateral hemifield responses of these neurons. Thus the representation of the ipsilateral hemifield in "bilateral" PON cells must result from input from a nonretinal source. Approximately 30% of PON neurons responded only to stimuli presented in the contralateral hemifield. These neurons were classified as "contralateral" neurons. Finally, approximately 30% of PON neurons responded to stimuli presented at or near the animal's fixation point. These neurons were classified as "macular" neurons. The mean firing rates of all classes of neurons increased with increases in stimulus size and luminance within their receptive fields. The thresholds and magnitude of these responses closely matched those that would be appropriate for mediating the pupillary light reflex. In summary, these results suggest that all three classes of PON neurons contribute to the behaviorally observed pupillomotor field characteristics in which stimuli at the macular produce substantially larger pupillary responses than more peripheral stimuli. The contributions of "bilateral" and "contralateral" cells account for pupillary responses evoked by peripheral changes in luminance, whereas the contributions of all three cell classes account for the larger pupillary responses evoked by stimuli in the central visual field.
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    Digital Object Identifier (doi)

    Author List

  • Clarke RJ; Zhang H; Gamlin PDR
  • Start Page

  • 3168
  • End Page

  • 3178
  • Volume

  • 89
  • Issue

  • 6