Neural circuits for perceiving visual form

Humans and other primates rely on using visual shape information to identify and interact with objects in the world. Knowledge of how the brain analyzes this information is therefore essential for understanding how we perceive visual objects and how we subsequently act on them. Neurophysiological studies in primates have documented an abundance of neurons selective for visual shape in higher areas of the cerebral cortex. These neuronal responses are presumed to be a foundation for visual shape perception, yet we know little about the cellular and circuit mechanisms governing them. Critically, we do not know how these neuronal responses map on to the electrical activity of specific cortical circuit elements. Such mechanistic insights would advance a more comprehensive understanding of how cortical neurons acquire their visual shape preferences and how neuronal activity influences downstream areas to mediate visual perception. Toward this goal, we are leveraging optogenetic methods in primates to investigate: (I) the role of distinct cortical cell types in visual shape analysis, and (II) the causal links between neural activity and visual shape perception. This research has the capacity to transform our mechanistic understanding of how the cerebral cortex governs the complex visual abilities of primates.