Understanding how cortical activity generates sensory perceptions requires a detailed dissection of the function of cortical layers. Despite our relatively extensive knowledge of their anatomy and wiring, we have a limited grasp of what each layer contributes to cortical computation. We need to develop a theory of cortical function that is rooted solidly in each layer's component cell types and fine circuit architecture and produces predictions that can be validated by specific perturbations. Here we briefly review the progress toward such a theory and suggest an experimental road map toward this goal. We discuss new methods for the all-optical interrogation of cortical layers, for correlating in vivo function with precise identification of transcriptional cell type, and for mapping local and long-range activity in vivo with synaptic resolution. The new technologies that can crack the function of cortical layers are finally on the immediate horizon.
Keywords: cortex; cortical layers; cortical microcircuits; inhibitory circuits; neural circuits; neural codes; neural computation; neurotechnology; optogenetics.
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