Cris Niell’s pioneering research into how mice see featured in Nature

Cris Niell

Cris Niell, assistant professor of biology in the University of Oregon's Institute of Neuroscience, is featured in a new article in the journal Nature, on the surge of interest in research of examining the visual system of mice.

The story, “Neuroscience: through the eyes of a mouse,” focuses on the ways in which Niell and other researchers have been able to use mice as a model for visual processing in higher animals. Years ago when he first began to examine how mice see, Niell told the journal, the established opinion in the neuroscience community was that the visual cortex in mice was far too underdeveloped to yield information about how our minds process images.

“People were saying, 'studying vision in mice, that's crazy,'” Niell recalled.

Now that opinion has changed, as evidenced by a number of developments, Nature correspondent Monya Baker wrote. Technological advances have allowed scientists to monitor and control specific mouse neurons using light. At last year’s annual meeting of the Society for Neuroscience, Neill attended packed sessions about vision in mice. And in March of last year, the Allen Institute for Brain Science in Seattle announced a 10-year plan and $100 million to map mouse visual areas.

Despite the fact that mice could be considered legally blind when their eyesight is compared to vision in humans, Neill has long been convinced that the rodents offer some unique opportunities for study. The Nature story details how Niell and his research partner, Michael Stryker of the University of California, San Francisco, helped usher in a new age of research in visual neuroscience by showing that visual systems in mice perform similar computations to those in human brains, and that the systems could also be manipulated.

“Studying mice cannot answer every question we have about the human brain, but researchers should learn what they can,” Niell told the journal. “You can make so much headway with a mouse that it's silly not to.”

- from the office of Research, Innovation, and Graduate Education