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The receptive field of a sensory neuron is a region of space in which the presence of a stimulus will alter the firing of that neuron. Receptive fields have been identified for neurons of the auditory system, the somatosensory system (see cutaneous receptive fields), and the visual system (see visual receptive fields.
The concept of receptive fields can be extended to further up the neural system; if many sensory receptors all form synapses with a single cell further up, they collectively form the receptive field of that cell. For example, the receptive field of a ganglion cell in the retina of the eye is composed of input from all of the cone cells which synapse with it, and a group of ganglion cells in turn forms the receptive field for a cell in the brain.
In the auditory system, receptive fields can be volumes in auditory space, or can be regions of auditory frequencies. Researchers rarely equate auditory receptive fields to particular regions of the sensory epithelium such as, in the case of mammals, hair cells in the cochlea.
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