Sensory regions of neocortex are organized as arrays of vertical columns composed of cells that share similar response properties, with the orientation columns of the cat's visual cortex being the best known example. Interest in how sensitivity to different stimulus features first emerges in the columns and how this selectivity is refined by subsequent processing has fueled decades of research. A natural starting point in approaching these issues is anatomy. Each column traverses the six cortical layers and each layer has a unique pattern of inputs, intrinsic connections and outputs. Thus, it makes sense to explore the possibility of corresponding laminar differences in sensory function, that is, to examine relationships between morphology and physiology. In addition, to help identify general patterns of cortical organization, it is useful to compare results obtained from different sensory systems and diverse species. The picture that emerges from such comparisons is that each cortical layer serves a distinct role in sensory function. Furthermore, different cortices appear to share some common strategies for processing information but also have specialized mechanisms adapted for the demands of specific sensory tasks.