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Hubel, David Hunter

cortex visual cells specific

(1926– ) Canadian–US neurophysiologist: investigator of the basis of visual perception.

Hubel qualified in medicine at McGill University, Montreal, and from 1959 worked at Harvard. With T N Wiesel (1924– ) he did much to aid understanding of the mechanism of visual perception at the cortical level, using microelectrodes and modern electronics to detect the activity of individual neurones, especially in area 17 of the visual cortex. The cells of this striate cortex lie in several layers arranged in columns, which run through the thickness of the cortex (a few millimetres). Hubel and Weisel found that stimulation of cells on the retina by light causes excitation of particular cells in the striate cortex. The cell activation in the cortex by visual stimulation is very specific; some cells respond to spots of light, others to a line whose tilt is critical, so that a change of 10° in its angle greatly alters the response. Still others respond only to specific directions of movement or to specific colours. The visual cortex has become the best-known part of the brain through studies of this kind. Hubel and Wiesel established in addition that many of the connections responsible for these specific response patterns are present already at birth but may be modified or even destroyed if the young animal is visually deprived. These results have had an important influence on treatment of congenital cataracts and strabismus (squint). Hubel and Wiesel shared a Nobel Prize in 1981.

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