Without the aid of modern techniques Cajal speculated that cells in the visual cortex were connected in circuits. From Cajal's time until fairly recently, the flow of information within the cells and circuits of visual cortex has been described as progressing from input to output, from sensation to action. In this chapter we argue that a paradigm shift in our concept of the visual cortical neuron is under way. The most important change in our view concerns the neuron's functional role. Visual cortical neurons do not have static functional signatures but instead function dynamically depending on the ongoing activity of the networks to which they belong. These networks are not merely top-down or bottom-up unidirectional transmission lines, but rather represent machinery that uses recurrent information and is dynamic and highly adaptable. With the advancement of technology for analyzing the conversations of multiple neurons at many levels in the visual system and higher resolution imaging, we predict that the paradigm shift will progress to the point where neurons are no longer viewed as independent processing units but as members of subsets of networks where their role is mapped in space-time coordinates in relationship to the other neuronal members. This view moves us far from Cajal's original views of the neuron. Nevertheless, we believe that understanding the basic morphology and wiring of networks will continue to contribute to our overall understanding of the visual cortex.
ASJC Scopus subject areas