The present study tested the hypothesis that nondominant-eye influences on lateral geniculate nucleus (LGN) neurons affect the processing of spatial and contrast information from the dominant eye. To do this, we determined the effects of stimulating the nondominant eye at its optimal spatial frequency on the responses of LGN cells to sine-wave gratings of different spatial frequency and contrast presented to the dominant eye. Detailed testing was carried out on 49 cells that had statistically significant responses to stimulation of the nondominant eye alone.
Spatial-frequency response functions to nondominant-eye stimulation indicated that the responses were spatially tuned, as reported previously (Guido et al., 1989). Optimal spatial frequencies through the nondominant eye were significantly correlated with the optimal spatial frequencies through the dominant eye (r = 0.54; P < 0.0001), and the optimal spatial frequencies were fairly similar for the two eyes.
Nondominant-eye stimulation changed the maximal amplitude of the fundamental (Fl) response to dominant-eye stimulation for only about 45% (22 of 49) of the cells that responded to nondominant-eye stimulation alone. The response vs. contrast function through the dominant eye was altered for 73% of the cells (51% independent of spatial frequency). Three types of effects were observed: a change in the initial slope of the response vs. contrast function (contrast gain), a change in the response amplitude at which saturation occurred, or an overall change in response at all contrasts. The incidence of these changes was similar for X and Y cells in LGN layers A, Al, and C (only four W cells were tested).
Nondominant-eye stimulation had little or no effect on the sizes or sensitivities of the receptive-field centers or surrounds for the dominant eye. In addition, nondominant-eye stimulation had little or no effect on optimal spatial frequency, spatial resolution, or the bandwidth of spatial-frequency contrast sensitivity curves for the dominant eye.
Possible functions of binocular interactions in the LGN are considered. The present results suggest a role in interocular contrast-gain control. Interocular contrast differences can occur before the acquisition of binocular fusion, when the two eyes are viewing different aspects of a visual stimulus. Psychophysical and physiological studies suggest that an interocular mechanism exists to maintain relatively constant binocular interactions despite differences in interocular contrast. The present results suggest that at least part of this mechanism occurs in the LGN.