Development of local circuits in human visual cortex

A. Burkhalter, K. L. Bernardo, V. Charles

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

214 Scopus citations


How we see the world largely depends on the organization of neuronal circuits in visual cortex. Physiological recordings in mammals indicate that circuits develop over a period that extends well into early postnatal ages (LeVay et al., 1980; Albus and Wolf, 1984). Our understanding of how these circuits are assembled during development is still fragmentary (Katz and Callaway, 1992). Here we describe the development of local connections within visual cortex, using the fluorescent dye 1,1'-dioctadecyl-3,3,3',3'- tetramethylindocarbocyanine perchlorate to trace axonal projections in postmortem human brains. Vertical (intracolumnar) connections between layers 2/3 and 5, which link neurons representing the same point in the visual field, develop prenatally at 26-29 weeks gestation. In contrast, horizontal (intercolumnar) connections between different points in the visual field develop later. They first emerge prenatally at ≃37 weeks gestation within layers 4B and 5. After birth (>40 weeks gestation) the fiber density increases rapidly, showing a uniform plexus of connections at 7 weeks postnatal. The more adult-like patchiness of the projection, however, emerges after 8 weeks postnatal. Long-range horizontal connections within layer 2/3 develop after the connections within layers 4B, 5, and 6. These connections emerge after 16 weeks postnatal, long after cytochrome oxidase blobs have developed, and reach mature form sometime before 15 months of age. Unlike the patchy horizontal projections within layers 4B and 5, which seem to develop through a process of collateral elimination, long-range projections within layer 2/3 are patchy from the outset and seem to develop with greater topographical precision. The finding that intracolumnar connections develop before intercolumnar projections suggests that circuits that process local features of a visual scene develop before circuits necessary to integrate these features into a continuous and coherent neural representation of an image. In addition, the sequential development of horizontal connections within layer 4B before those within layer 2/3 suggests that circuits that may be related to the processing channel for visual motion develop in advance of those that may be more intimately related to the processing of form, color, and precise stereoscopic depth.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1916-1931
Number of pages16
JournalJournal of Neuroscience
Issue number5
StatePublished - 1993


  • human brain
  • intracortical connections
  • magnocellular pathway
  • parvocellular pathway
  • postnatal development
  • prenatal development
  • visual cortex


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