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

Lindsay M. De Biase, Ph.D., University of California Los Angeles
The role of microglial lysosomes in selective neuronal vulnerability
Synapses, the sites of signaling between neurons in the brain, play essential roles in learning, memory, and the health of neurons themselves. An enduring mystery is why some neurons are…
How the nervous system constructs internal models of the external world
As animals navigate their environments, they construct internal models of the external sensory world and use these models to guide their behavior. This ability to incorporate ongoing sensory stimuli into…
Xiaojing Gao, Ph.D., Stanford University
When Neural Circuits Meet Molecular Circuits: Quantitative Genetic Manipulation with Single-cell Consistency
Cells are the building blocks of our bodies. We get sick when the cells “misbehave”. The way modern gene therapies work is to introduce genes, fragments of DNA molecules that…
Rafiq Huda, Ph.D., Rutgers University
Conducting the orchestra of movement—functional role of striatal astrocytes in health and disease
Movement requires coordinated activity across a large brain-wide network. The striatum is a particularly important part of this circuit; it integrates motor-related information from many distinct brain regions to regulate…