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Biosystems. 2009 Jun;96(3):251-8. doi: 10.1016/j.biosystems.2009.03.003. Epub 2009 Mar 25.

Creating abstract topographic representations: implications for coding, learning and reasoning.

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Medical Research Council Centre for Synaptic Plasticity, Department of Anatomy, University Walk, Bristol University, Bristol BS8 1TD, United Kingdom.


Topographic maps are a fundamental and ubiquitous feature of the sensory and motor regions of the brain. There is less evidence for the existence of conventional topographic maps in associational areas of the brain such as the prefrontal cortex and parietal cortex. The existence of topographically arranged anatomical projections is far more widespread and occurs in associational regions of the brain as well as sensory and motor regions: this points to a more widespread existence of topographically organised maps within associational cortex than currently recognised. Indeed, there is increasing evidence that abstract topographic representations may also occur in these regions. For example, a topographic mnemonic map of visual space has been described in the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex and topographically arranged visuospatial attentional signals have been described in parietal association cortex. This article explores how abstract representations might be extracted from sensory topographic representations and subsequently code abstract information. Finally a simple model is presented that shows how abstract topographic representations could be integrated with other information within the brain to solve problems or form abstract associations. The model uses correlative firing to detect associations between different types of stimuli. It is flexible because it can produce correlations between information represented in a topographic or non-topographic coordinate system. It is proposed that a similar process could be used in high-level cognitive operations such as learning and reasoning.

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