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NEI Grantee Movshon Wins Lashley Award for Behavioral Neuroscience

May 31, 2013

Anthony Movshon, Ph.D., an NEI grantee and director of New York University’s Center for Neural Science, has won the 2013 Karl Spencer Lashley Award from the American Philosophical Society (APS). The award recognizes work that advances “the integrative neuroscience of behavior.”

Movshon’s research focuses on the fundamentals of visual perception-in other words, how the brain tells us what we see. His early studies focused on a part of the visual cortex called V1. As the first major processing hub within the visual cortex, V1 uses information from the eyes to perceive very simple images such as lines and dots. Movshon helped lay down the mathematical rules that determine what it is that individual V1 neurons see, including the limited part of visual space they see, called a receptive field.

In a recent NEI-funded study in Nature Neuroscience, Movshon tackled the functions of a long-mysterious part of the visual cortex, V2. Because V2 receives input from V1, scientists have long theorized that V2 enables us to build complex scenes from simple images. But repeated efforts to test this theory have found few functional differences between V1 and V2.

Movshon and colleagues at NYU took a unique approach to investigate this theory. They started from the premise that the most complex scenes are often those found in nature. They took photographs of high-texture natural objects-such as honeycomb-and then mathematically derived a pair of new images: one that preserved the visually dominant textures of the original photo, and a “noise” image that eliminated the texture in the original but otherwise kept the same basic properties (such as the distributions of brightness, contrast, and contour). They found that V2 responds strongly to textured images but not noise images, and that in contrast, V1 has little or no sensitivity to texture.

Michael Steinmetz, Ph.D., a program director at NEI praised Movshon’s many contributions to the science of visual perception. “Vision researchers have made strong advances toward repairing damage to the retina and optic nerve, but the development of new therapies to restore vision will depend on our understanding of the visual cortex where the neural signals generated in the eye are ultimately translated. Dr. Movshon’s work has formalized our understanding of how the brain processes visual information and has inspired the work of many other scientists in the field,” he said.

Movshon will be presented with the Lashley award at the APS bi-annual meeting in Philadelphia in November 2013.