Functional Organization of Human Visual Cortical Areas

  • Balázs Gulyás
Part of the Cerebral Cortex book series (CECO, volume 12)


The visual cortex in lower mammals and primates occupies a relatively large part of the neocortex, and this is one indication of the uniquely important role of the processing and analysis of visual information in the brain. This may, however, be too broad an observation, as the notion “visual cortex” is after all loosely defined. The classical anatomical definition (Cajal, 1899a, b) was that the visual cortex in several species, including human, monkey, and dog, has a special anatomical character; namely an intermediary white “line,” stria, or layer visible to the naked eye (stria Gennari, described independently by Francesco Gennari, 1782, and Félix Vicq-d’Azyr, 1786). This has proved to be far too narrow a definition, as the part of the cortex characterized by this landmark includes only the primary visual area within the visual cortex. Clinical and anatomical studies around the turn of the century brought into the picture “the visual association cortex” (for review see Zeki, 1993; Kuljis, 1994; Rizzo, 1994; and the chapter by Gross, in this volume), the second visual area next to the striate cortex “constituted for the elaboration and interpretation of [visual] sensations” (Campbell, 1905). In the broadest sense, the neurobiological literature also includes cortical areas or cortical regions as part of the visual cortex if their main functions are related to the processing and analysis of visual information, whether they be located in the occipital lobe and its neighboring parietal and temporal cortices or at sites far away from it (e.g., frontal eye field; see, e.g., Drury el al., 1996; and the chapters by Siegal and Read and by Schall, in this volume). No perfect consensus exists as to precisely what the extent of the visual cortex is and how to define it in the best way. One reason is that certain cortical areas may participate in various sensory or sensory—motor operations, for instance, in visuotactile or visuomotor “transformations.” These areas may be a part of both the visual and sensory or visual and motor systems. Other “multimodal” areas may also show different functional features, depending upon task requirements.


Positron Emission Tomography Visual Cortex Visual Area Lateral Geniculate Nucleus Striate Cortex 
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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media New York 1997

Authors and Affiliations

  • Balázs Gulyás
    • 1
  1. 1.Division of Human Brain Research, Department of NeuroscienceKarolinska InstituteStockholmSweden

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