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UNLABELLED: Neurons respond to specific features of sensory stimuli. In the visual system, for example, some neurons respond to motion of small but not large objects, whereas other neurons prefer motion of the entire visual field. Separate neurons respond equally to local and global motion but selectively to additional features of visual stimuli. How and where does response selectivity emerge? Here, we show that wide-field (WF) cells in retino-recipient layers of the mouse superior colliculus (SC) respond selectively to small moving objects. Moreover, we identify two mechanisms that contribute to this selectivity. First, we show that input restricted to a small portion of the broad dendritic arbor of WF cells is sufficient to trigger dendritic spikes that reliably propagate to the soma/axon. In vivo whole-cell recordings reveal that nearly every action potential evoked by visual stimuli has characteristics of spikes initiated in dendrites. Second, inhibitory input from a different class of SC neuron, horizontal cells, constrains the range of stimuli to which WF cells respond. Horizontal cells respond preferentially to the sudden appearance or rapid movement of large stimuli. Optogenetic reduction of their activity reduces movement selectivity and broadens size tuning in WF cells by increasing the relative strength of responses to stimuli that appear suddenly or cover a large region of space. Therefore, strongly propagating dendritic spikes enable small stimuli to drive spike output in WF cells and local inhibition helps restrict responses to stimuli that are both small and moving.
SIGNIFICANCE STATEMENT: How do neurons respond selectively to some sensory stimuli but not others? In the visual system, a particularly relevant stimulus feature is object motion, which often reveals other animals. Here, we show how specific cells in the superior colliculus, one synapse downstream of the retina, respond selectively to object motion. These wide-field (WF) cells respond strongly to small objects that move slowly anywhere through a large region of space, but not to stationary objects or full-field motion. Action potential initiation in dendrites enables small stimuli to trigger visual responses and inhibitory input from cells that prefer large, suddenly appearing, or quickly moving stimuli restricts responses of WF cells to objects that are small and moving.