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Chichilnisky Lab

Systems Neurobiology Laboratories

The Salk Institute

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The goal of our research is to understand how the retina encodes, processes and transmits visual information to the brain, and the consequences for visual perception. We use unique large-scale multielectrode recordings from the primate retina to study visually evoked activity in hundreds of retinal ganglion cells of multiple types, simultaneously. We ask questions such as these:

  • How do the distinct ganglion cell types sample the visual scene?
  • How is color information represented in their population activity?
  • How does correlated firing influence visual signaling?
  • How reliably can visual stimuli be inferred from retinal signals?
  • Can electrical stimulation reproduce the visual signals transmitted to the brain?

In addition to revealing the function of the retina, we hope that our work will help in treating blindness. For example, our electrical stimulation experiments are aimed at the development of prosthetic devices to restore vision in people blinded by photoreceptor disease.

We are fortunate to work with several outstanding collaborators:

  • Alan Litke, University of California, Santa Cruz
  • Fred Rieke, University of Washington
  • Eero Simoncelli, New York University
  • Liam Paninski, Columbia University
  • Jonathan Pillow, University of Texas, Austin


Animal Research

Understanding the function of the retina, and reproducing it with electrical stimulation, have the potential to help treat blindness. Working toward these goals relies on the use of animals, as does the vast majority of humankind's knowledge of biology and medicine. We focus on the primate retina because of its unique relevance for understanding human vision, in health and in disease. We obtain eyes from animals that are euthanized by other labs in the course of their research. This approach makes the greatest use of experimental animals.

Virtually every medical treatment available today, in a clinic or hospital or pharmacy, was developed using animals.


Media Links

Science News (April, 2009)

UPI Report (April, 2009)

KPBS Radio Interview (May, 2009)

LiveScience (October, 2010)



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