Max Planck Florida Institute for Neuroscience
Dr. David Fitzpatrick
Max Planck

Functional Architecture and Development of Cerebral Cortex

David Fitzpatrick, PhD


Our research focuses on the functional organization and development of neural circuits in the cerebral cortex, the largest and most complex area of the brain, comprising 20 billion neurons and 60 trillion synapses--a neuronal network whose proper function is critical for sensory perception, motor control, and cognition. State of the art anatomical, electrophysiological, and imaging techniques are used to study neural circuits in primary visual cortex, an area where the emergence of novel response properties raises a host of tractable questions about the neural basis of visual perception. More broadly, the study of circuits in visual cortex provides a window into fundamental mechanisms of cortical processing that underlie a wide range of brain functions and serves as a model system for exploring the role of experience in the construction of cortical circuits.

Individual neurons in visual cortex have receptive fields that are responsive to small regions of visual space, and within this region, to specific properties of the visual stimulus such as the orientation of edges, their direction of motion, and color. Moreover, in species with well-developed visual capabilities, neurons exhibiting these properties are arrayed in a systematic fashion that reflects the underlying radial and tangential structure of cortical anatomy. Neurons with similar response properties are clustered together forming radial 'columns' that extend from the cortical surface to the white matter. Nearby columns generally have similar but slightly shifted stimulus preferences, an arrangement that results in orderly 'maps' of stimulus properties. Our research has played a pivotal role in defining the columnar architecture of cortical circuits and using this architecture as a functional referent to explore rules of intracortical connectivity, address questions of population coding, and probe experience-dependent mechanisms of cortical development.

Current projects include:

  • Determining the contribution of horizontal connections to the response properties of layer 2/3 neurons using optogenetics with spatial light modulator control.
  • Exploring the anatomical and physiological basis for experience-dependent emergence of direction selective responses using in vivo 2-photon imaging.
  • Capturing the dynamics of population response to abrupt changes in the trajectory of a moving stimulus using in vivo voltage sensitive dye imaging.
  • Mapping the topology of functional inputs within the dendritic fields of individual layer 2/3 neurons using in vivo 2-photon calcium imaging.
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