The neocortex is central to mammalian cognitive ability, playing critical roles in sensory perception, motor skills and executive function. This thin, layered structure comprises distinct, functionally specialized areas that communicate with each other through the axons of pyramidal neurons. For the hundreds of such cortico-cortical pathways to underlie diverse functions, their cellular and synaptic architectures must differ so that they result in distinct computations at the target projection neurons. In what ways do these pathways differ? By originating and terminating in different laminae, and by selectively targeting specific populations of excitatory and inhibitory neurons, these "interareal" pathways can differentially control the timing and strength of synaptic inputs onto individual neurons, resulting in layer-specific computations. Due to the rapid development in transgenic techniques, the mouse has emerged as a powerful mammalian model for understanding the rules by which cortical circuits organize and function. Here we review our understanding of how cortical lamination constrains long-range communication in the mammalian brain, with an emphasis on the mouse visual cortical network. We discuss the laminar architecture underlying interareal communication, the role of neocortical layers in organizing the balance of excitatory and inhibitory actions, and highlight the structure and function of layer 1 in mouse visual cortex.
Keywords: cortical hierarchy; cortical inhibition; interareal communication; layer 1; mouse visual cortex.