Robert H. Wurtz, Ph.D.

Scientist Emeritus

Visuomotor Integration Section


Building 49, Room 2A50
49 Convent Drive
Bethesda, MD 20892-4435


Research Topics

Dr. Wurtz’s research explores the organization of the brain underlying visual perception and the control of eye movement. He developed methods now widely used to study the visual system in awake, behaving monkeys, the best animal model available for the human visual system. This method makes possible the analysis of the brain’s integration of visual input from the eye with information about movement of the eye that is essential for the active vision of all primates. His subsequent experiments have concentrated on the organization of visual and occulomotor circuits in the brain that underlie this active vision, including the mechanisms of visual motion, visual attention, and the generation of eye movements. His work has centered on study of both the cerebral cortex and subcortical structures including the superior colliculus and the thalamus. The recent work of Dr. Wurtz and his colleagues has revealed circuits within the brain that convey information (a corollary discharge) that is used to produce stable visual perception in spite of frequent eye movements.


Dr. Robert Wurtz received his A.B. from Oberlin College in chemistry and his Ph.D. from the University of Michigan in physiological psychology, where he worked under James Olds on intra-cranial self-stimulation. He did postdoctoral research at Washington University in St. Louis, at the NIH, and at the Physiological Laboratory at Cambridge University. He joined the Laboratory of Neurobiology, NIMH in 1966, where he began studies on the visual system of awake, behaving monkeys, and became the founding Chief of the NEI Laboratory of Sensorimotor Research in 1978. He remains in the Laboratory as an NIH Distinguished Investigator. Dr. Wurtz has served as President of the Society for Neuroscience and has been elected to the National Academy of Sciences, the Institute of Medicine, and the American Academy of Arts & Sciences. Among his awards and honors are the Karl Spencer Lashley Award of the American Philosophical Society, the Distinguished Scientific Contribution Award of the American Psychological Association, the Ralph W. Gerard Prize of the Society for Neuroscience, the Dan David Prize for Brain Sciences, and the Gruber Prize in Neuroscience.

Selected Publications

  1. Cavanaugh J, Joiner WM, Wurtz RH. Suppressive surrounds of receptive fields in monkey frontal eye field. J Neurosci. 2012;32(35):12284-93.

  2. Berman RA, Wurtz RH. Signals conveyed in the pulvinar pathway from superior colliculus to cortical area MT. J Neurosci. 2011;31(2):373-84.

  3. McAlonan K, Cavanaugh J, Wurtz RH. Guarding the gateway to cortex with attention in visual thalamus. Nature. 2008;456(7220):391-4.

  4. Sommer MA, Wurtz RH. Brain circuits for the internal monitoring of movements. Annu Rev Neurosci. 2008;31:317-38.

  5. Sommer MA, Wurtz RH. Influence of the thalamus on spatial visual processing in frontal cortex. Nature. 2006;444(7117):374-7.

Related Scientific Focus Areas

This page was last updated on November 29th, 2012