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A micro-architecture for binocular disparity and ocular dominance in visual cortex


In invertebrate predators such as the praying mantis and vertebrate predators such as wild cats the ability to detect small differences in inter-ocular retinal disparities is a critical means for accurately determining the depth of moving objects such as prey1. In mammals, the first neurons along the visual pathway that encode binocular disparities are found in the visual cortex. However, a precise functional architecture for binocular disparity has never been demonstrated in any species, and coarse maps for disparity have been found in only one primate species2,3. Moreover, the dominant approach for assaying the developmental plasticity of binocular cortical neurons used monocular tests of ocular dominance to infer binocular function4. The few studies that examined the relationship between ocular dominance and binocular disparity of individual cells used single-unit recordings and have provided conflicting results regarding whether ocular dominance can predict the selectivity or sensitivity to binocular disparity5,6,7,8,9. We used two-photon calcium imaging to sample the response to monocular and binocular visual stimuli from nearly every adjacent neuron in a small region of the cat visual cortex, area 18. Here we show that local circuits for ocular dominance always have smooth and graded transitions from one apparently monocular functional domain to an adjacent binocular region. Most unexpectedly, we discovered a new map in the cat visual cortex that had a precise functional micro-architecture for binocular disparity selectivity. At the level of single cells, ocular dominance was unrelated to binocular disparity selectivity or sensitivity. When the local maps for ocular dominance and binocular disparity both had measurable gradients at a given cortical site, the two gradient directions were orthogonal to each other. Together, these results indicate that, from the perspective of the spiking activity of individual neurons, ocular dominance cannot predict binocular disparity tuning. However, the precise local arrangement of ocular dominance and binocular disparity maps provide new clues regarding how monocular and binocular depth cues may be combined and decoded.

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Figure 1: Single-cell responses and functional maps from two experiments.
Figure 2: Orthogonal maps for binocular disparity and ocular dominance when gradients were evident in both maps.
Figure 3: Relationship between disparity sensitivity and the response to monocular stimuli.
Figure 4: Stable functional micro-architecture for binocular disparity.


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We thank B. Cumming and N. Swindale for discussions. We thank B. Shi, Z. Shen, Z. Lu and J. Schnellmann for comments on the manuscript. This work was supported by grants from the NIH, Whitehall and Dana Foundations to P.K.

Author Contributions P.K. conceived the project, designed the experiments and set up the laboratory. P.K. and J.D.B. performed the experiments. P.K. analysed the data and wrote the paper. Both authors discussed the results and commented on the manuscript.

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Correspondence to Prakash Kara.

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Kara, P., Boyd, J. A micro-architecture for binocular disparity and ocular dominance in visual cortex. Nature 458, 627–631 (2009).

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