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Principal Investigator

Photo of Leslie Ungerleider

Leslie Ungerleider, Ph.D.

Section on Neurocircuitry


Dr. Ungerleider received her B.A. degree from the State University of New York at Binghamton and her Ph.D. degree, with a major in Experimental Psychology, from New York University. During her postdoctoral training with Karl Pribram at Stanford University, she began her work on higher-order perceptual mechanisms in the cortex of primates. She moved to the NIMH in 1975, joining Mortimer Mishkin in the Laboratory of Neuropsychology. Their neurobehavioral work inspired their theory of 'two cortical visual systems', one specialized for object recognition and another for visuospatial perception.
In 1995, Dr. Ungerleider became Chief of the Laboratory of Brain and Cognition at NIMH. She is a member of the National Academy of Sciences, the Institute of Medicine of the National Academies, and the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. In 2001, she was the recipient of the Women in Neuroscience Lifetime Achievement Award and in 2008 she became an NIH Distinguished Investigator

Research Interests

The goal of the Section on Neurocircuitry has long been devoted to establishing the links between neural structure and cognitive function, especially in the visual modality. Most of Dr. Ungerleider’s early work was devoted to anatomical tracing techniques in macaque monkeys in order to delineate the areas that comprise visual association cortex and their interconnections. The mappings of the monkey extrastriate visual cortex in the mid- 1990’s outlined some of the major functional systems.  With the advent of functional brain imaging in humans Dr. Ungerleider re-channeled her resources towards studies of human cortex, first using PET and then fMRI. Her monkey work has guided many of her hypotheses in human imaging studies.

Dr. Ungerleider’s work on visual attention and perception has shown that in a typical scene many different objects compete for neural representation due to the limited processing capacity of the visual system. The competition among multiple objects can be biased by both bottom-up sensory-driven mechanisms and top-down influences, such as selective attention. Although the competition among stimuli for representation is ultimately resolved within visual cortex, the source of top-down biasing signals likely derives from a distributed network of areas in frontal and parietal cortex. This biased competition model of attention suggests that once attentional resources are depleted, no further processing is possible. Dr. Ungerleider's recent work has shown that, similar to the processing of other stimulus categories, the processing of stimuli with emotional valence is under top-down control, requiring attentional resources.

Selected Publications

Perception of emotional expressions is independent of face selectivity in monkey inferior temporal cortex. Hadj-Bouziane F, Bell AH, Knusten TA, Ungerleider LG, Tootell RB. Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2008 Apr 8;105(14):5591-6. doi: 10.1073/pnas.0800489105. Epub 2008 Mar 28. PMID: 18375769.

fMRI mapping of a morphed continuum of 3D shapes within inferior temporal cortex. Tootell RB, Devaney KJ, Young JC, Postelnicu G, Rajimehr R, Ungerleider LG. Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2008 Mar 4;105(9):3605-9. doi: 10.1073/pnas.0712274105. Epub 2008 Feb 20. PMID: 18287004.

Cortical connections of area V4 in the macaque. Ungerleider LG, Galkin TW, Desimone R, Gattass R. Cereb Cortex. 2008 Mar;18(3):477-99. Epub 2007 Jun 4. PMID: 17548798.

Activations in visual and attention-related areas predict and correlate with the degree of perceptual learning. Mukai I, Kim D, Fukunaga M, Japee S, Marrett S, Ungerleider LG. J Neurosci. 2007 Oct 17;27(42):11401-11. PMID: 17942734.

Involvement of human left dorsolateral prefrontal cortex in perceptual decision making is independent of response modality. Heekeren HR, Marrett S, Ruff DA, Bandettini PA, Ungerleider LG. Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2006 Jun 27;103(26):10023-8. Epub 2006 Jun 19. PMID: 16785427.

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