Vision by David Freedman

Neuronal Mechanisms of Visual Category Learning and Recognition
2008 Seed Grant
David Freedman, Ph.D.
University of Chicago

Humans and other advanced animals are not born with a built in library of meaningful
categories, such as “tables” and “chairs,” which we are preprogrammed to recognize. Instead
we learn to recognize the meaning of such stimuli through experience. This ability, which is
disrupted by a number of brain diseases and conditions such as Alzheimer’s disease,
schizophrenia and stroke, is critical because it allows us to respond appropriately to the
continuous stream of stimuli and events that we encounter in our interactions with the

While much is known about the encoding of basic visual features (such as contrast, orientation,
and motion direction) in early stages of the visual system, much less is known about how the
brain learns, stores, recognizes and recalls the meaning of our sensory experiences. With his
2008 Brain Research Foundation Seed Grant, Dr. David J. Freedman conducted research to
determine a more detailed understanding of the brain mechanisms of visual learning, memory
and recognition.

A greater understanding of visual learning and categorization is important for addressing a
number of brain disorders and conditions that leave patients impaired in everyday tasks that
require an appropriate response to sensory information. These studies also have particular
relevance for understanding and addressing learning disabilities, such as attention deficit
disorder and dyslexia, which affect a substantial number of school age children and young
adults. The long-term goal of Dr. Freedman’s research is to help guide the next generation of
treatments for these brain-based diseases and disorders by helping to develop a detailed
understanding of the brain mechanisms that underlie learning, memory and recognition.

Results from this study enabled Dr. Freedman to submit a proposal to the National Science
Foundation (NSF). In 2010, Dr. Freedman was awarded the NSF CAREER award for junior
faculty. This award is a five year grant in the amount of $950,000.

The NSF is an independent federal agency that supports all fields of fundamental science and

Dr. David Freedman’s 2008 BRF Seed Grant award leads to a $950,000 grant from the National
Science Foundation.

Other Grants

Rebekah C. Evans, Ph.D., Georgetown University
In Vivo and Ex Vivo Dissection of Midbrain Neuron Activity During Exercise
Exercise is important for the health of the body and the mind. Exercise promotes learning and reduces symptoms of brain-related diseases such as Parkinson’s disease and Alzheimer’s disease. However, it…
William J. Giardino, Ph.D. Stanford University
Deciphering the Neuropeptide Circuitry of Emotional Arousal in Narcolepsy
This research project aims to investigate the neural mechanisms of a specific type of brain cell called neuropeptide neurons within a region of the brain’s amygdala network called the bed…
Howard Gritton, Ph.D., University of Illinois
Attention Mechanisms Contributing to Auditory Spatial Processing.
Our world is composed of a rich mixture of sounds. We often process sounds including speech in the presence of many other competing auditory stimuli (e.g., voices in a crowded…
Nora Kory, Ph.D., Harvard University
Elucidating the Fates and Functions of Lactate in the Brain
The human brain requires significant energy to function. Despite accounting for only 2% of our body weight, the brain consumes a substantial 20% of the body’s energy, relying on a…