Coarse-to-fine processing drives the efficient coding of natural scenes in mouse visual cortex. Cell Reports. 2022.
The visual system processes sensory inputs sequentially, perceiving coarse information before fine details. Here we study the neural basis of coarse-to-fine processing and its computational benefits in natural vision. We find that primary visual cortical neurons in awake mice respond to natural scenes in a coarse-to-fine manner, primarily driven by individual neurons rapidly shifting their spatial frequency preference from low to high over a brief response period. This shift transforms the population response in a way that counteracts the statistical regularities of natural scenes, thereby reducing redundancy and generating a more efficient neural representation. The increase in representational efficiency does not occur in either dark-reared or anesthetized mice, which show significantly attenuated coarse-to-fine spatial processing. Collectively, these results illustrate that coarse-to-fine processing is state dependent, develops postnatally via visual experience, and provides a computational advantage by generating more efficient representations of the complex spatial statistics of ethologically relevant natural scenes.