Not seeing the trees for the wood

November 27, 2019

Researchers from the Netherlands Institute for Neuroscience have shown how it is possible that objects stand out less when they are surrounded by similar objects. This surround-suppression effect is caused by feedback from higher visual brain areas. The results of this research are important for a better understanding of the way in which the brain transforms incoming light into a cohesive image. The paper has been published in the scientific journal Current Biology.

The brain area responsible for processing vision is located at the back of the brain. One of the most important parts of this area, the primary visual cortex, is the area where a visual stimulus first reaches the cortex. Nerve cells in this area are sensitive to perceiving objects within a very small field of vision. So when you look at a specific object, the nerve cells in the primary cortex are activated and you see this object. "But when this object is surrounded by similar objects, the cells are less active. So really what happens is that you don't see the trees for the wood," says Alexander Heimel, group leader at the Netherlands Institute.


"The theory had previously yielded the idea that this surround-suppression effect was the result of signals from higher visual brain areas. But until recently there was not much scientific evidence for this," says principal researcher Joris Vangeneugden, aios at Maastricht University. In order to find out whether it really was a matter of higher visual brain areas signaling, the researchers measured mouse brain activity while the mouse was looking at images of different sizes. At the same time, the researchers managed to pause the higher visual areas for a couple of seconds. It turned out that the activity in the primary visual cortex remained high for the larger images when these higher visual areas were paused, while this did not happen when they were active. The suppression of the surroundings thus decreased. This shows that the higher areas do indeed provide some sort of feedback to the primary visual cortex. "They tell the primary visual cortex that it should focus on a small individual object, not on everything there is to see," says Heimel.


Understanding this step is necessary to understand, eventually, how the brain transforms the light that enters via our eyes into a perception that makes us understand what we see. "An understanding of how our brain does this is essential for the development of prosthetics that will make blind people see again. Merely ensuring that light reaches the brain does not always suffice; what happens after that is even more important," says Vangeneugden.

Netherlands Institute for Neuroscience - KNAW

Related Nerve Cells Articles from Brightsurf:

Nerve cells let others "listen in"
How many ''listeners'' a nerve cell has in the brain is strictly regulated.

Nerve cells with energy saving program
Thanks to a metabolic adjustment, the cells can remain functional despite damage to the mitochondria.

Why developing nerve cells can take a wrong turn
Loss of ubiquitin-conjugating enzyme leads to impediment in growth of nerve cells / Link found between cellular machineries of protein degradation and regulation of the epigenetic landscape in human embryonic stem cells

Unique fingerprint: What makes nerve cells unmistakable?
Protein variations that result from the process of alternative splicing control the identity and function of nerve cells in the brain.

Ragweed compounds could protect nerve cells from Alzheimer's
As spring arrives in the northern hemisphere, many people are cursing ragweed, a primary culprit in seasonal allergies.

Fooling nerve cells into acting normal
In a new study, scientists at the University of Missouri have discovered that a neuron's own electrical signal, or voltage, can indicate whether the neuron is functioning normally.

How nerve cells control misfolded proteins
Researchers have identified a protein complex that marks misfolded proteins, stops them from interacting with other proteins in the cell and directs them towards disposal.

The development of brain stem cells into new nerve cells and why this can lead to cancer
Stem cells are true Jacks-of-all-trades of our bodies, as they can turn into the many different cell types of all organs.

Research confirms nerve cells made from skin cells are a valid lab model for studying disease
Researchers from the Salk Institute, along with collaborators at Stanford University and Baylor College of Medicine, have shown that cells from mice that have been induced to grow into nerve cells using a previously published method have molecular signatures matching neurons that developed naturally in the brain.

Bees can count with just four nerve cells in their brains
Bees can solve seemingly clever counting tasks with very small numbers of nerve cells in their brains, according to researchers at Queen Mary University of London.

Read More: Nerve Cells News and Nerve Cells Current Events is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to