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Salk scientists map the frontiers of vision
Date:1/6/2012

There's a 3-D world in our brains. It's a landscape that mimics the outside world, where the objects we see exist as collections of neural circuits and electrical impulses.

Now, scientists at the Salk Institute for Biological Studies are using new tools they developed to chart that world, a key step in revolutionizing research into the neurological basis of vision.

For the first time, the scientists have produced neuron-by-neuron maps of the regions of the mouse brain that process different kinds of visual information, laying the groundwork for decoding the circuitry of the brain using cutting-edge, genetic research techniques only possible in mice.

"In the field of cognitive research, this puts the mouse on the map - by putting the map on the mouse," says James Marshel, a Salk research associate. Marshel and Marina Garrett, a graduate student at University of California San Diego, were lead authors on a paper reporting the advance in the December 22 issue of Neuron.

To understand the extraordinarily complex computations of the human brain, including those behind visual cognition, scientists have mostly relied on studies on primates, such as monkeys, our closest relatives in the animal kingdom, and the most like us in terms of cognitive ability.

Researchers have identified what portions of the primate brain process different aspects of the sensory information they gather from the outside world. In particular, a great deal is known about what regions of the primate brain process certain visual information, helping them identify objects and follow their movements in three-dimensional space.

"We've learned a lot about how our eyes feed information to our brains, and a huge portion of our brain is devoted to processing this information," says Edward Callaway, a professor in Salk's Systems Neurobiology Laboratory, whose laboratory conducted the research. "Vision is a terrific system for understanding how
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Contact: Andy Hoang
Ahoang@salk.edu
619-861-5811
Salk Institute
Source:Eurekalert

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