The optic tectum holds a central position in the tectofugal pathway of non-mammalian species and is reciprocally connected with the nucleus isthmi. Here, we recorded from individual nucleus isthmi pars parvocellularis (Ipc) neurons in the turtle eye-attached whole-brain preparation in response to a range of computer-generated visual stimuli. Ipc neurons responded to a variety of moving or flashing stimuli as long as those stimuli were small. When mapped with a moving spot, the excitatory receptive field was of circular Gaussian shape with an average half-width of less than 3°. We found no evidence for directional sensitivity. For moving spots of varying sizes, the measured Ipc response-size profile was reproduced by the linear Difference-of-Gaussian model, which is consistent with the superposition of a narrow excitatory center and an inhibitory surround. Intracellular Ipc recordings revealed a strong inhibitory connection from the nucleus isthmi pars magnocellularis (Imc), which has the anatomical feature to provide a broad inhibitory projection. The recorded Ipc response properties, together with the modulatory role of the Ipc in tectal visual processing, suggest that the columns of Ipc axon terminals in turtle optic tectum bias tectal visual responses to small dark changing features in visual scenes.
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