Complicated neuronal circuits can be genetically encoded, but the underlying developmental algorithms remain largely unknown. Here, we describe a developmental algorithm for the specification of synaptic partner cells through axonal sorting in the Drosophila visual map. Our approach combines intravital imaging of growth cone dynamics in developing brains of intact pupae and data-driven computational modeling. These analyses suggest that three simple rules are sufficient to generate the seemingly complex neural superposition wiring of the fly visual map without an elaborate molecular matchmaking code. Our computational model explains robust and precise wiring in a crowded brain region despite extensive growth cone overlaps and provides a framework for matching molecular mechanisms with the rules they execute. Finally, ordered geometric axon terminal arrangements that are not required for neural superposition are a side product of the developmental algorithm, thus elucidating neural circuit connectivity that remained unexplained based on adult structure and function alone.
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