Nat Neurosci. 2024 Jan 3. doi: 10.1038/s41593-023-01510-5. Online ahead of print.
Recurrent cortical activity sculpts visual perception by refining, amplifying or suppressing visual input. However, the rules that govern the influence of recurrent activity remain enigmatic. We used ensemble-specific two-photon optogenetics in the mouse visual cortex to isolate the impact of recurrent activity from external visual input. We found that the spatial arrangement and the visual feature preference of the stimulated ensemble and the neighboring neurons jointly determine the net effect of recurrent activity. Photoactivation of these ensembles drives suppression in all cells beyond 30 µm but uniformly drives activation in closer similarly tuned cells. In nonsimilarly tuned cells, compact, cotuned ensembles drive net suppression, while diffuse, cotuned ensembles drive activation. Computational modeling suggests that highly local recurrent excitatory connectivity and selective convergence onto inhibitory neurons explain these effects. Our findings reveal a straightforward logic in which space and feature preference of cortical ensembles determine their impact on local recurrent activity.