D M Snodderly

Department of Neuroscience, Department of Nutritional Sciences

Early stages of the primate visual pathway from the retina to the cortex.

Phone: 512-232-3307

Office Location
NMS 5.314

Postal Address
The University of Texas at Austin
Department of Neuroscience, College of Natural Sciences
1 University Station C7000
Austin, TX 78712

Ph.D., Rockefeller University (1969)

Research Summary:

We study the early stages of the primate visual pathway from the retina to the cortex. In human subjects, we are measuring the retinal macular pigment that filters out blue light and protects the fovea from light damage (See image below). Perceptual testing and optical imaging allow us to study individual differences in pigment density and how pigment distribution is related to foveal anatomy. Clinical studies by others will eventually determine whether these individual differences represent different degrees of risk for diseases such as age-related macular degeneration. For studies of brain function, we train macaque monkeys because they are the best animal models for human vision.

In the lateral geniculate nucleus (LGN) and visual cortex, ultrafine electrodes are used to record extracellularly the activity of single and multiple neurons while the monkeys perform tasks that control their behavior. High precision eyetracking and fast stimulus displays enable us to control stimulus position and motion accurately on the retina even in the presence of normal eye movements. We either compensate for the eye movements or record them and measure their effects as needed. Experiments typically involve careful characterization of the receptive field properties of neurons, including their spatiotemporal and chromatic properties, while compensating for eye movements. A computational model of the cell’s properties may be generated from the results.

Then we record neuronal responses during natural viewing of images of natural scenes, such as vegetation or other objects. One goal of these experiments is to learn how eye movements interact with stimulus properties to shape the responses of visual neurons when viewing natural objects. This is an important step toward learning how primate vision may have evolved in response to selection pressures related to foraging for food, and other survival activities. More details and references are provided on the SnodderlyLab website.

Barker FM II, Snodderly DM, Johnson EJ, Schalch W, Koepcke W, Gerss J, Neuringer M.  Nutritional manipulation of primate retinas. V: effects of lutein, zeaxanthin and n–3 fatty acids on retinal sensitivity to blue light damage.  Invest Ophthalmol Vis Sci. 2011; 52:3934-3942.

Vishwanathan R, Neuringer M, Snodderly DM, Schalch W, Johnson EJ.  Macular lutein and zeaxanthin are related to brain lutein and zeaxanthin in primates.  Nutr Neurosci 2012; DOI:10.1179/1476830512Y.0000000024

Meyers KJ, Johnson EJ, Bernstein PS, Iyengar SK, Engelman CD, Karki CK, Liu Z, Igo RP, Jr., Truitt B, Klein ML, Snodderly DM, Blodi BA, Gehrs KM, Sarto GE, Wallace RB, Robinson J, Leblanc ES, Hageman G, Tinker L, Mares JA Genetic determinants of macular pigments in women of the carotenoids in age-related eye disease study.  Invest Ophthalmol Vis Sci. 2013; 54:2333-2345.

Stringham JM, Snodderly DM.  Enhancing performance while avoiding damage: a contribution of macular pigment.  Invest Ophthalmol Vis Sci. 2013; 54:6298-6306.

Przybyszewski AW, Kagan I, Snodderly DM.  Primate area V1: largest response gain for receptive fields in the straight-ahead direction. Neuroreport 2014; 25:1109-1115. 

  • 1958-1962 National Merit Scholarship
  • 1962 Eta Kappa Nu (electrical engineering honorary)
  • 1962 Tau Beta Pi (general engineering honorary)
  • 1969 Travel Award, Fight for Sight
  • 1969-1971 NIMH Individual Postdoctoral Fellowship, Department of Psychology, University of California, Berkeley
  • 1975 Teacher Fellowship, Grant Foundation, participation in Earthwatch expedition
  • 1986 Fellow, American Psychological Association, Transferred to Association for Psychological Science
  • 2001 Garland W. Clay Award, American Academy of Optometry (Paper 37 in my bibliography) chosen by the Editorial Board of the Academy’s journal, Optometry and Vision Science as the best of the 3 or 4 most widely cited articles published in the journal in 1997