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When you are about to collide into something and manage to swerve away just in the nick of time, what exactly is happening in your brain? A new study from the Montreal Neurological Institute and Hospital The Neuro, McGill University shows how the brain processes visual information to figure out when something is moving towards you or when you are about to head into a collision. The study, published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the USA (PNAS), provides vital insight into our sense of vision and a greater understanding of the brain.
Researchers at The Neuro and the University of Maryland have figured out the mathematical calculations that specific neurons employ in order to inform us of our distance from an object and the 3D velocities of moving objects and surfaces relative to ourselves. Highly specialized neurons located in the brain's visual cortex, in an area known as MST, respond selectively to motion patterns such as expansion, rotation, and deformation. However, the computations underlying such selectivity were unknown until now.
Using mathematical models and sophisticated recording techniques, researchers have discovered how individual MST neurons function. "Area MST is typical of high-level visual cortex, in that information about important aspects of vision can be seen in the firing patterns of single neurons. A classic example is a neuron that only fires when the subject is looking at the image of a particular face. This type of neuron has to gather information from other neurons that are selective to simpler features, like lines, colors, and textures, and combine these pieces of information in a fairly sophisticated way," says Dr. Christopher Pack, neuroscientist at The Neuro and senior author. "Similarly, for motion detection, neurons have to combine inp
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