Whither the hypercolumn?

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Abstract

Among the crowning achievements of Hubel and Wiesel's highly influential studies on primary visual cortex is the description of the cortical hypercolumn, a set of cortical columns with functional properties spanning a particular parameter space. This fundamental concept laid the groundwork for the notion of a modular sensory cortex, canonical cortical circuits and an understanding of visual field coverage beyond simple retinotopy. Surprisingly, the search for and description of analogous hypercolumnar organizations in other cortical areas to date has been limited. In the present work, we have applied the hypercolumn concept to the functional organization of the second visual area, V2. We found it important to separate out the original definition of the hypercolumn from other associated observations and concepts, not all of which are applicable to V2. We present results indicating that, as in V1, the V2 hypercolumns for orientation and binocular interaction (disparity) run roughly orthogonal to each other. We quantified the ‘nearest neighbour’ periodicities for the hypercolumns for ocular dominance, orientation, colour and disparity, and found a marked similarity in the periodicities of all of these hypercolumns, both across hypercolumn type and across visual areas V1 and V2. The results support an underlying common mechanism that constrains the anatomical extent of hypercolumn systems, and highlight the original definition of the cortical hypercolumn.

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