To accurately perceive the direction of moving objects, rats could exploit a small but very useful cluster of visual neurons, which seem to work in the same way as the “pattern cells” found in the cerebral cortex of primates. Thanks to these neurons, rats could rely on a rather advanced motion processing system, based on extraction of high-level visual information from retinal images.
These are the conclusions of a new SISSA study, just published in the journal Science Advances. To investigate whether the rat brain contains neurons that are able to solve the “aperture problem”, an essential step in the accurate perception of movement, a team led by Prof. Davide Zoccolan recorded a specific group of cells in rat visual cortex and analysed their behaviour using artificial intelligence models to account for the cells’ functions. The results have shown that these neurons do have properties that are comparable to those of the “pattern cells” found in the primate visual system. Understanding the processes that underpin the functions of these cells can be useful not only to expand our understanding of the visual system but also to inspire the development of innovative artificial vision systems. This new study proves how rats are excellent animal models for this purpose, as well as for studying vision and the pathologies that can afflict it, such as neurodegenerative or neurodevelopmental disorders.