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Retina ‘hardwired’ to predict path of moving objects

Finding helps explain how baseball players can connect with a 100-mph fastball and how the rest of us manage everyday tasks.
August 2, 2021
Scientist looking in a microscope

Michael Manookin at a confocal microscope. Image credit: University of Washington

Neural circuits in the primate retina can generate the information needed to predict the path of a moving object before visual signals even leave the eye, UW Medicine researchers demonstrate in a new paper.

“The ability to predict where moving objects will go is so important for survival that it’s likely hardwired into all sighted animals,” said Michael Manookin, an assistant professor of ophthalmology at the University of Washington School of Medicine. He led the research team with Fred Rieke, professor of physiology and biophysics. 

Manookin and his colleagues report their findings in the journal Nature Neuroscience.  Belle Liu and Arthur Hong, two UW undergraduate students, were the lead authors on the paper.

In the study, the researchers looked at how motion was processed by cellular circuits in the retina. The circuits the researchers focused on are composed of light-sensing photoreceptor cells, called cones; an intermediate layer of cells, called bipolar cells; and ganglion cells that collect signals from bipolar cells and transmit these signals out of the eye to other brain regions.