What We Study
We study how the circuitry of the retina translates the visual scene into electrical impulses in the optic nerve. Visual perception is initiated by the molecules, cells and synapses of the retina, acting together to process and compress visual information into a sequence of spikes in a population of nerve fibers. One of the largest gaps in neuroscience lies in the explaining of systems-level processes like visual processing in terms of cellular-level mechanisms. This problem is tractable in the retina because of its experimental accessibility, and the substantial amount already known about basic retinal cell types and functions.
Our goal is to explain specific retinal visual processes such as adaptation to contrast and image statistics, and the detection of moving objects. To do this, we use a versatile set of experimental and theoretical techniques. While projecting visual scenes from a video monitor onto the isolated retina, an extracellular multielectrode array is used to record a substantial fraction of the output of a small patch of retina. Simultaneously, we record intracellularly from retinal interneurons, and use two-photon laser-scanning imaging to record physiological responses from neurons with minimal visual disturbance from the infrared laser. The experimental data is used to create mathematical models to predict and explain the output of the retinal circuit.
Finally, we try to understand the tradeoffs and solutions involved in each particular computation to extract general principles of neural circuit design.