Abstract

We compared the morphological characteristics of layer III pyramidal neurones in different visual areas of the occipitotemporal cortical 'stream', which processes information related to object recognition in the visual field (including shape, colour and texture). Pyramidal cells were intracellularly injected with Lucifer Yellow in cortical slices cut tangential to the cortical layers, allowing quantitative comparisons of dendritic field morphology, spine density and cell body size between the blobs and interblobs of the primary visual area (V1), the interstripe compartments of the second visual area (V2), the fourth visual area (V4) and cytoarchitectonic area TEO. We found that the tangential dimension of basal dendritic fields of layer III pyramidal neurones increases from caudal to rostral visual areas in the occipitotemporal pathway, such that TEO cells have, on average, dendritic fields spanning an area 5-6 times larger than V1 cells. In addition, the data indicate that V1 cells located within blobs have significantly larger dendritic fields than those of interblob cells. Sholl analysis of dendritic fields demonstrated that pyramidal cells in V4 and TEO are more complex (i.e. exhibit a larger number of branches at comparable distances from the cell body) than cells in V1 or V2. Moreover, this analysis demonstrated that the dendrites of many cells in V1 cluster along specific axes, while this tendency is less marked in extrastriate areas. Most notably, there is a relatively large proportion of neurones with 'morphologically orientation-biased' dendritic fields (i.e. branches tend to cluster along two diametrically opposed directions from the cell body) in the interblobs in V1, as compared with the blobs in V1 and extrastriate areas. Finally, counts of dendritic spines along the length of basal dendrites revealed similar peak spine densities in the blobs and the interblobs of V1 and in the V2 interstripes, but markedly higher spine densities in V4 and TEO. Estimates of the number of dendritic spines on the basal dendritic fields of layer III pyramidal cells indicate that cells in V2 have on average twice as many spines as V1 cells, that V4 cells have 3.8 times as many spines as V1 cells, and that TEO cells have 7.5 times as many spines as V1 cells. These findings suggest the possibility that the complex response properties of neurones in rostral stations in the occipitotemporal pathway may, in part, be attributed to their larger and more complex basal dendritic fields, and to the increase in both number and density of spines on their basal dendrites.