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Senior Investigator

Robert H. Wurtz, Ph.D.

Laboratory of Sensorimotor Research
Building 49 Room 2A50
49 Convent Drive MSC4435
Bethesda MD 20892-4435
Office: (301) 496-7170

Fax: (301) 402-0511

Dr. Wurtz received his A.B. from Oberlin College and his Ph.D. from the University of Michigan where he worked in the laboratory of James Olds on intra-cranial self-stimulation. He did postdoctoral research at the Department of Physiology, Washington University, on slow potential changes in cerebral cortex and in NINDS � NIMH on synaptic plasticity in Aplysia. In 1966 he joined the Laboratory of Neurobiology, NIMH and began studies on the visual system of awake, behaving monkeys. During this time he spent a year as a Visiting Scientist at the Physiological Laboratory at Cambridge University in England. He became the founding Chief of the Laboratory of Sensorimotor Research, NEI in 1978. Dr. Wurtz was elected to the National Academy of Sciences in 1988, the Institute of Medicine of the National Academy of Sciences in 1997, the American Academy of Arts & Sciences in 1990, and President of the Society for Neuroscience in 1990. The focus of his research is the neurobiology of vision and eye movements.

I have concentrated my research on one of the primary functions of the brain: how it processes sensory information for perception and the initiation of movement. Experiments in my laboratory centers on the visual and oculomotor systems of the brain of awake behaving monkeys as a model for similar systems in the human brain.

One oculomotor system, the saccadic system, moves the eye rapidly from one region of the visual field to another and my laboratory has investigated the nature of the visual-motor transformations that must occur between the visual input and the eye-movement-related output. Experiments use behavioral, electrophysiological, anatomical, and theoretical approaches on the system within the brain including the superior colliculus, the cerebral cortex, and the basal ganglia. Preparation to make these eye movements has also been used to determine the regions of the brain related to visual attention and the neuronal processes that occur with shifts of attention.

Visual motion information is used to generate a second type of eye movement, smooth pursuit, and we have identified regions of visual cortex that are related to these movements. Recent work has also suggested that the visual motion resulting from our own movements is processed in a separate but adjacent region of the cerebral cortex.

Staff Image
  • James Cavanaugh, Ph.D.
    Staff Scientist

  • Kerry McAlonan, Ph.D.
    Postdoctoral Fellow

  • 1) Wurtz RH (2013)
  • Retrospective. David H. Hubel
  • Science , 342(6158), 572
  • 2) Joiner WM, Cavanaugh J, Wurtz RH (2013)
  • Compression and suppression of shifting receptive field activity in frontal eye field neurons.
  • J Neurosci, 33(46), 18259-69
  • 3) Joiner WM, Cavanaugh J, FitzGibbon EJ, Wurtz RH (2013)
  • Corollary discharge contributes to perceived eye location in monkeys
  • J Neurophysiol, 110(10), 2402-13
  • 4) Cavanaugh J, Joiner WM, Wurtz RH (2012)
  • Suppressive surrounds of receptive fields in monkey frontal eye field.
  • J Neurosci, 32(35), 12284-93
  • 5) Cavanaugh J, Monosov IE, McAlonan K, Berman R, Smith MK, Cao V, Wang KH, Boyden ES, Wurtz RH (2012)
  • Optogenetic inactivation modifies monkey visuomotor behavior.
  • Neuron, 76(5), 901-7
  • 6) Wurtz RH, McAlonan K, Cavanaugh J, Berman RA. (2011)
  • Thalamic pathways for active vision.
  • Trends Cogn Sci, 15(4), 177-84
  • 7) Joiner WM, Cavanaugh J, Wurtz RH (2011)
  • Modulation of Shifting Receptive Field Activity In Frontal Eye Field by Visual Salience.
  • J Neurophysiol, 106(3), 1179-90
  • 8) Berman, R.A., Wurtz, R.H. (2011)
  • Signals Conveyed in the Pulvinar Pathway from Superior Colliculus to Cortical Area MT.
  • J Neurosci, 31, 373-384
  • 10) Berman RA, Wurtz RH (2010)
  • Functional identification of a pulvinar path from superior colliculus to cortical area MT.
  • J. Neuroscience, May 102(18), 6342-6354
  • 11) Joiner WM, Fitzgibbon EJ, Wurtz RH (2010)
  • Amplitudes and directions of individual saccades can be adjusted by corollary discharge.
  • J. Vision, Feb; 10(2), 1-12
  • 12) Berman RA, Joiner WM, Cavanaugh J, Wurtz RH (2009)
  • Modulation of presaccadic activity in the frontal eye field by the superior colliculus.
  • J. Neurophysiol., June 101(6), 2934-2942
  • 13) Wurtz RH (2008)
  • Neuronal mechanisms of visual stability.
  • Vision Res, Sep;48(20), 2070-89
  • 14) Sommer MA, Wurtz RH (2008)
  • Brain circuits for the internal monitoring of movements
  • Annu Rev Neurosci, 31, 317-38
  • 15) McAlonan K, Cavanaugh J, Wurtz RH (2008)
  • Guarding the gateway to cortex with attention in visual thalamus
  • Nature, Nov 20;456(7220), 391-4
  • 16) Sommer, M.A., Wurtz, R.H. (2006)
  • Influence of thalamus on spatial visual processing in frontal cortex.
  • Nature, 444, 374-377
  • 17) Cavanaugh, J. and Wurtz, R.H. (2004)
  • Subcortical modulation of attention counters change blindness.
  • J. Neurosci, 50, 11236-43
  • 18) Eifuku, S. and Wurtz, R.H. (1999)
  • Response to motion in extrastriate area MSTl: Disparity sensitivity
  • J. Neurophysiol., 82, 2462-2475
  • 19) Recanzone, G. H. and Wurtz, R. H. (1999)
  • Shift in smooth pursuit initiation in MT and MST neuronal activity under different stimulus conditions.
  • J. Neurophysiol., 82, 1710-1727
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