During sensory experience, the retina transmits a diverse array of signals to the brain, which must be parsed to generate meaningful percepts that can guide decisions and actions. Decades of anatomical and physiological studies in primates and carnivores have revealed a complex parallel and hierarchical organization by which distinct visual features are distributed to, and processed by, different brain regions. However, these studies have been limited in their ability to dissect the circuit mechanisms involved in the transformation of sensory inputs into complex cortical representations and action patterns. Multiple groups have therefore pushed to explore the organization and function of higher visual areas in the mouse. Here we review the anatomical and physiological findings of these recent explorations in mouse visual cortex. These studies find that sensory input is processed in a diverse set of higher areas that are each interconnected with specific limbic and motor systems. This hierarchical and parallel organization is consistent with the multiple streams that have been found in the higher visual areas of primates. We therefore propose that the mouse visual system is a useful model to explore the circuits underlying the transformation of sensory inputs into goal-directed perceptions and actions.
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