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The mechanistic link between neural circuit activity and behavior remains unclear. While manipulating cortical activity can bias certain behaviors and elicit artificial percepts, some tasks can still be solved when cortex is silenced or removed. Here, mice were trained to perform a visual detection task during which we selectively targeted groups of visually responsive and co-tuned neurons in L2/3 of primary visual cortex (V1) for two-photon photostimulation. The influence of photostimulation was conditional on two key factors: the behavioral state of the animal and the contrast of the visual stimulus. The detection of low-contrast stimuli was enhanced by photostimulation, while the detection of high-contrast stimuli was suppressed, but crucially, only when mice were highly engaged in the task. When mice were less engaged, our manipulations of cortical activity had no effect on behavior. The behavioral changes were linked to specific changes in neuronal activity. The responses of non-photostimulated neurons in the local network were also conditional on two factors: their functional similarity to the photostimulated neurons and the contrast of the visual stimulus. Functionally similar neurons were increasingly suppressed by photostimulation with increasing visual stimulus contrast, correlating with the change in behavior. Our results show that the influence of cortical activity on perception is not fixed, but dynamically and contextually modulated by behavioral state, ongoing activity and the routing of information through specific circuits.

Original publication




Journal article


Nature Communications

Publication Date