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Pinwheel crystallization in a dimension reduction model of visual cortical development

The primary visual cortex (V1) of higher mammals contains a topographic representation of visual space in which neighborhood-preserving maps of several variables describing visual features such as position in visual space, line orientation, movement direction, and ocularity are embedded [1]. It has been hypothesized that the complex spatial layouts of these representations can be interpreted as ground states of a smooth mapping of a high-dimensional space of visual stimulus features to an effectively two dimensional array of neurons [2, 3]. Competitive Hebbian models of cortical development have been widely used to numerically study the properties of such mappings [25], but no analytical results about their ground states have been obtained so far. A classical example of such dimension reducing mappings is the Elastic Network Model (EN), which was proposed in [2].

Here we use a perturbative approach to compute the ground states of the EN for the joint mapping of two visual features: (i) position in visual space, represented in a retinotopic map and (ii) line orientation, represented in an orientation preference map (OPM). In this framework, the EN incooporates a mapping from a four-dimensional feature space to the twodimensional cortical sheet of neurons. We show that the dynamics of both feature representations can be treated within a general theory for the stability of OPMs [6]. We find various ground states as a function of the lateral intracortical interactions and external stimulus distribution properties. However, in all parameter regimes, the grounds states of the Elastic Network Model are either stripe-like, or crystalline representation of the two visual features. We present a complete phase diagram of the model, summarizing pattern selection. Analytical predictions are confirmed by direct numerical simulations. Our results question previous studies (see [5] and references therein) concluding that the EN correctly reproduces the spatially aperiodic arrangement of visual cortical processing modules.


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Correspondence to Wolfgang Keil.

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Open Access This article is published under license to BioMed Central Ltd. This is an Open Access article is distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 International License (, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited.

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Keil, W., Wolf, F. Pinwheel crystallization in a dimension reduction model of visual cortical development. BMC Neurosci 10 (Suppl 1), P63 (2009).

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