Learning speed and detection sensitivity controlled by distinct cortico-fugal neurons in visual cortex

  1. Sarah Ruediger  Is a corresponding author
  2. Massimo Scanziani  Is a corresponding author
  1. UCSF and HHMI, United States


Vertebrates can change their behavior upon detection of visual stimuli according to the outcome their actions produce. Such goal-directed behavior involves evolutionary conserved brain structures like the striatum and optic tectum, which receive ascending visual input from the periphery. In mammals, however, these structures also receive descending visual input from visual cortex (VC), via neurons that give rise to cortico-fugal projections. The function of cortico-fugal neurons in visually-guided, goal-directed behavior remains unclear. Here we address the impact of two populations of cortico-fugal neurons in mouse VC in the learning and performance of a visual detection task. We show that the ablation of striatal projecting neurons reduces learning speed while the ablation of superior colliculus projecting neurons does not impact learning but reduces detection sensitivity. This functional dissociation between distinct cortico-fugal neurons in controlling learning speed and detection sensitivity suggests an adaptive contribution of cortico-fugal pathways even in simple goal-directed behavior.

Data availability

All data generated or analyzed during this study are included in the manuscript and supporting files. Numerical data for graphs represented in figures 1-6, figure 1-figure supplement 2,3,4,5, figure 2-figure supplement 1, figure 4-figure supplement 1 are provided as source data files. The software used to generate visual stimuli and record neuronal activity is available at: https://github.com/mscaudill/neuroGit and https://github.com/aresulaj/ResRueOlsSca18.

Article and author information

Author details

  1. Sarah Ruediger

    Physiology, UCSF and HHMI, San Francisco, United States
    For correspondence
    Competing interests
    The authors declare that no competing interests exist.
  2. Massimo Scanziani

    Physiology, UCSF and HHMI, San Francisco, United States
    For correspondence
    Competing interests
    The authors declare that no competing interests exist.
    ORCID icon "This ORCID iD identifies the author of this article:" 0000-0002-5331-9686


National Eye Institute (NIH R01EY025668)

  • Massimo Scanziani

Howard Hughes Medical Institute

  • Massimo Scanziani

European Molecular Biology Organization (ALTF741-2012)

  • Sarah Ruediger

Swiss National Science Foundation (151168)

  • Sarah Ruediger

Swiss National Science Foundation (138719)

  • Sarah Ruediger

The funders had no role in study design, data collection and interpretation, or the decision to submit the work for publication.


Animal experimentation: All experimental procedures were performed with the approval of the Committee on Animal Care at UCSD and UCSF. Authorization # AN179056

Reviewing Editor

  1. Inna Slutsky, Tel Aviv University, Israel

Version history

  1. Received: May 23, 2020
  2. Accepted: December 6, 2020
  3. Accepted Manuscript published: December 7, 2020 (version 1)
  4. Version of Record published: December 18, 2020 (version 2)


© 2020, Ruediger & Scanziani

This article is distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License permitting unrestricted use and redistribution provided that the original author and source are credited.


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  1. Sarah Ruediger
  2. Massimo Scanziani
Learning speed and detection sensitivity controlled by distinct cortico-fugal neurons in visual cortex
eLife 9:e59247.

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