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Chapter 12 Summary

Distinct populations of retinal ganglion cells send their axons to a number of central visual structures that serve different functions. The most important projections are to the pretectum for mediating the pupillary light reflex; to the hypothalamus for the regulation of circadian rhythms; to the superior colliculus for the regulation of eye and head movements; and—most important of all—to the lateral geniculate nucleus for mediating vision and visual perception.

The retinogeniculostriate projection (the primary visual pathway) is arranged topographically such that central visual structures contain an organized map of the contralateral visual field. Damage anywhere along the primary visual pathway, which includes the optic nerve, optic tract, lateral geniculate nucleus, optic radiation, and striate cortex, results in a loss of vision confined to a predictable region of visual space. Compared to retinal ganglion cells, neurons at higher levels of the visual pathway become increasingly selective in their stimulus requirements. Thus, most neurons in the striate cortex respond to light–dark edges only if they are presented at a certain orientation, or to movement of the edge in a specific direction. The neural circuitry in the striate cortex also brings together information from the two eyes; most cortical neurons (other than those in layer 4, which are segregated into eye-specific columns) have binocular responses. Binocular convergence is presumably essential for the detection of binocular disparity, an important component of depth perception. The primary visual pathway is composed of separate functional pathways that convey information from different types of retinal ganglion cells to the initial stages of cortical processing. The magnocellular pathway conveys information that is critical for the detection of rapidly changing stimuli; the parvocellular pathway mediates high-acuity vision and appears to share responsibility for color vision with the koniocellular pathway. Finally, beyond striate cortex, parcellation of function continues in the ventral and dorsal streams that lead to the extrastriate and association areas in the temporal and parietal lobes, respectively. Areas in the inferotemporal cortex are especially important in object recognition, whereas areas in the parietal lobe are critical for understanding the spatial relationships among objects in the visual field.

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