The LGN receives information directly from the retina, and sends projections directly to the primary visual cortex. In addition, it receives many strong feedback connections from the primary visual cortex.
|M: Magnocellular cells||Large cell bodies||Use a relatively short time to process information. This system operates quickly but without much detail.||Layers 1 and 2|
|P: Parvocellular cells (or "parvicellular")||Small cell bodies||Use a relatively long time to process information. This system operates more slowly and with lots of information about details. For example, these cells carry color information while magnocellular cells do not.||Layers 3, 4, 5 and 6|
|K: Koniocellular cells (or "interlaminar")||Very small cell bodies||Less universally accepted than M and P. Are located in between the layers. K cells are functionally and neurochemically distinct from M and P cells and provide a third channel to the visual cortex. The role of the koniocellular system in visual perception is presently unclear, however, it has been linked with integrating somatosensory-proprioceptive information with visual perception, and may also be involved in color perception.||Between each of the M and P layers|
The magnocellular, parvocellular, and koniocellular layers of the LGN correspond with the similarly-named types of ganglion cells.
It should be noted that the parvo- and magnocellular fibers were previously thought to dominate the Ungerleider-Mishkin ventral stream and dorsal stream, respectively. However, new evidence has accumulated showing that the two streams appear to feed on a more even mixture of different types of nerve fibers.
The other major retino-cortical visual pathway is the retinotectal pathway, routing primarily through the superior colliculus and thalamic pulvinar nucleus onto posterior parietal and medial temporal cortices.
In addition, the layers are divided up as follows:
A simple mnemonic for remembering this is "See I? I see, I see," with "see" representing the C in "contralateral," and "I" representing the I in "ipsilateral."
This description applies to the LGN of many primates, but not all. The sequence of layers receiving information from the ipsilateral and contralateral (opposite side of the head) eyes is different in the tarsier . Some neuroscientists suggested that "this apparent difference distinguishes tarsiers from all other primates, reinforcing the view that they arose in an early, independent line of primate evolution" .
Remember that, in visual perception, the right eye gets information from the right side of the world (the right visual field), as well as the left side of the world (the left visual field). You can confirm this by covering your left eye: the right eye still sees to your left and right, although on the left side your field of view is partially blocked by your nose.
In the LGN, the corresponding information from the right and left eyes is "stacked" so that a toothpick driven through the club sandwich of layers 1 through 6 would hit the same point in visual space six different times.
The axons that leave the LGN go to V1 visual cortex. Both the magnocellular layers 1-2 and the parvocellular layers 3-6 send their axons to layer 4 in V1, with layer 4cβ feeding on parvo- and layer 4cα on magnocellular input. However, the koniocellular layers (in between layers 1-6) send their axons to layers 2 and 3 in V1. Axons from layer 6 of visual cortex send information back to the LGN.
Studies involving blindsight syndrome have suggested that projections from the LGN not only travel to the visual cortex but also to higher cortex areas. Patients with blindsight syndrome are unable to perceive certain areas in the visual field, however tests have shown that these patients are able to subconsciously encode the entire visual field. This suggests that neurons travel from the LGN to both the visual cortex and higher cortex regions.
The function of the LGN is unknown. It has been shown that while the retina accomplishes spatial decorrelation through center surround inhibition, the LGN accomplishes temporal decorrelation. This spatial-temporal decorrelation makes for much more efficient coding. However, there is almost certainly much more going on.
Like other areas of the thalamus, particularly other relay nuclei, the LGN likely helps the visual system focus its attention on the most important information. That is, if you hear a sound slightly to your left, the auditory system likely "tells" the visual system, through the LGN, to direct visual attention to that part of space.
The LGN is also a station that refines certain receptive fields.