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Genetic determination and layout rules of visual cortical architecture


Liedtke,  Joscha
Department of Nonlinear Dynamics, Max Planck Institute for Dynamics and Self-Organization, Max Planck Society;

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Liedtke, J. (2017). Genetic determination and layout rules of visual cortical architecture. PhD Thesis, Georg-August-Universität, Göttingen.

Cite as: https://hdl.handle.net/11858/00-001M-0000-002D-D658-5
The functional architecture of the primary visual cortex is set up by neurons that preferentially respond to visual stimuli with contours of a specific orientation in visual space. In primates and placental carnivores, orientation preference is arranged into continuous and roughly repetitive (iso-) orientation domains. Exceptions are pinwheels that are surrounded by all orientation preferences. The configuration of pinwheels adheres to quantitative species-invariant statistics, the common design. This common design most likely evolved independently at least twice in the course of the past 65 million years, which might indicate a functionally advantageous trait. The possible acquisition of environment-dependent functional traits by genes, the Baldwin effect, makes it conceivable that visual cortical architecture is partially or redundantly encoded by genetic information. In this conception, genetic mechanisms support the emergence of visual cortical architecture or even establish it under unfavorable environments. In this dissertation, I examine the capability of genetic mechanisms for encoding visual cortical architecture and mathematically dissect the pinwheel configuration under measurement noise as well as in different geometries. First, I theoretically explore possible roles of genetic mechanisms in visual cortical development that were previously excluded from theoretical research, mostly because the information capacity of the genome appeared too small to contain a blueprint for wiring up the cortex. For the first time, I provide a biologically plausible scheme for quantitatively encoding functional visual cortical architecture by genetic information that circumvents the alleged information bottleneck. Key ingredients for this mechanism are active transport and trans-neuronal signaling as well as joined dynamics of morphogens and connectome. This theory provides predictions for experimental tests and thus may help to clarify the relative importance of genes and environments on complex human traits. Second, I disentangle the link between orientation domain ensembles and the species-invariant pinwheel statistics of the common design. This examination highlights informative measures of pinwheel configurations for model benchmarking. Third, I mathematically investigate the susceptibility of the pinwheel configuration to measurement noise. The results give rise to an extrapolation method of pinwheel densities to the zero noise limit and provide an approximated analytical expression for confidence regions of pinwheel centers. Thus, the work facilitates high-precision measurements and enhances benchmarking for devising more accurate models of visual cortical development. Finally, I shed light on genuine three-dimensional properties of functional visual cortical architectures. I devise maximum entropy models of three-dimensional functional visual cortical architectures in different geometries. This theory enables the examination of possible evolutionary transitions between different functional architectures for which intermediate organizations might still exist.