A comparative study of cortical computations in the mammalian visual cortex

Scholl, Benjamin Kyle
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A common feature of all mammals is the cerebral cortex, which is essential for higher-order functions and processing information to generate motor actions. While cortical circuits exhibit a striking uniformity in anatomical organization, it is unknown whether these circuits preform similar computations across mammalian species. In this dissertation I compare the emergence of two computations in the primary visual cortex (V1) of carnivores and rodents. A cortical computation is a transformation in neural representation, such that the spiking output of a cortical neuron exhibits a selectivity not present in the inputs from upstream neurons. Here I explore two computations: orientation selectivity, the preference of neurons for oriented edges in the visual world, and binocularity, the integration of signals from the two eyes. In the first section, I compare the emergence of orientation selectivity in the early visual pathway of mouse and cat. Recordings from thalamic relay cells and V1 neurons in both species reveal orientation selectivity in mouse V1 is not emergent, and could be inherited subcortically. In a second set of experiments, I measure orientation selectivity and the organization of V1 orientation preference in a grasshopper mouse with predatory behavior, compared to the scavenger lab mouse. Here I find the same functional properties. In the second section, I focus on the integration of ocular inputs in V1 of mouse and cat. I first compare disparity selectivity in cats, where convergence of ocular inputs has long been established, with mice, where ocular integration had not previously been investigated. Similar to cats, mouse V1 neurons were sensitive to binocular disparity, albeit to a lesser degree, and could be described by a linear feed-forward model. I next explore the disruption of binocular disparity tuning in both animals. In cats, strabismus induced during development causes increased monocularity in V1 and a loss of disparity selectivity. In mice, monocular deprivation causes increased ocular input, which also manifests as decreased disparity selectivity. Finally, I explore how excitatory and inhibitory neurons in mouse V1 integrate binocular signals. Paravalbumin-expressing inhibitory interneurons are more binocular but less disparity tuned than surrounding cortical neurons, providing a canonical mechanism explaining loss of disparity selectivity in both carnivores and rodents.