Architecture, Function, and Assembly of the Mouse Visual System

Annual Review of Neuroscience

Vol. 40:499-538 (Volume publication date July 2017)


Vision is the sense humans rely on most to navigate the world, make decisions, and perform complex tasks. Understanding how humans see thus represents one of the most fundamental and important goals of neuroscience. The use of the mouse as a model for parsing how vision works at a fundamental level started approximately a decade ago, ushered in by the mouse's convenient size, relatively low cost, and, above all, amenability to genetic perturbations. In the course of that effort, a large cadre of new and powerful tools for in vivo labeling, monitoring, and manipulation of neurons were applied to this species. As a consequence, a significant body of work now exists on the architecture, function, and development of mouse central visual pathways. Excitingly, much of that work includes causal testing of the role of specific cell types and circuits in visual perception and behavior—something rare to find in studies of the visual system of other species. Indeed, one could argue that more information is now available about the mouse visual system than any other sensory system, in any species, including humans. As such, the mouse visual system has become a platform for multilevel analysis of the mammalian central nervous system generally. Here we review the mouse visual system structure, function, and development literature and comment on the similarities and differences between the visual system of this and other model species. We also make it a point to highlight the aspects of mouse visual circuitry that remain opaque and that are in need of additional experimentation to enrich our understanding of how vision works on a broad scale.