In vivo tracing of pathways and spatio-temporal activity patterns in rat visual cortex using voltage sensitive dyes

H. S. Orbach, D. C. Van Essen

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22 Scopus citations


We monitored optical signals from cortex stained with a voltage sensitive dye to study activity evoked by intracortical electrical stimulation. The objectives were to study the spatial and temporal spread of activity from intrinsic connections near the stimulating electrode and to develop a new technique to study extrinsic projections from striate cortex to extrastriate target areas. Various measures were made of the time course of the optical signal (latency, rise time, decay time, temporal summation, facilitation versus depression, and presence or absence of a slow undershoot); in general, these measures were found to vary significantly across different response positions, different experiments, and even different runs within the same experiment. The spatial distribution of responses near the stimulating electrode in striate cortex was usually elliptical and was most often elongated along the anterior-posterior axis, with a typical size (full width at 75% max) of 1.3 mm (anterior-posterior axis) by 0.75 mm (medio-lateral axis). In some cases, complex spatio-temporal patterns were observed, in which the position of the maximum optical signal shifted with time or split into multiple peaks. In eight experiments, a response focus was found in extrastriate cortex at an expected location within the lateromedial area (LM). The response focus in LM was typically about half the size of that in striate cortex. In some experiments we observed additional focal responses in the anterolateral visual area (AL). The extrastriate responses showed a significant delay (3-10 ms) in onset and time to peak relative to the striate response. The validity of this technique for determining extrinsic projections was tested in two types of experiments. In the first, stimulation from two electrodes in striate cortex generated response foci consistent with the known topographic organization of area LM. In the second, the optically measured response focus was shown to correlate with the histologically reconstructed projection of a chemical tracer injected near the site of stimulation. We discuss the chain of neurophysiological events that occur during and after focal electrical stimulation and how they relate to the observed optical signal. We conclude that direct passive responses were a small component of our signal, that the component due to action potentials in directly stimulated neurons should have occurred in the first 1-2 ms post stimulus and is small compared to the peak signal, and that overall our signals were probably dominated by a combination of asynchronously occurring action potentials and excitatory and inhibitory synaptic potentials. These results, together with the prospect of being able to trace many connections in a single experiment, indicate that the combination of optical recording and focal electrical stimulation provides a valuable means for analyzing structural and physiological aspects of cortical circuitry.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)371-392
Number of pages22
JournalExperimental Brain Research
Issue number3
StatePublished - Jun 1993


  • Cortical dynamics
  • Optical recording
  • Rat
  • Visual cortex
  • Voltage sensitive dyes


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