W. Martin Usrey, Ph.D. for UC Davis Health

W. Martin Usrey, Ph.D.

Professor, Department of Neurology

Professor and Chair of Neurobiology, Physiology & Behavior

Barbara Horwitz and John Horowitz Endowed Chair of Physiology






Locations and Contact

UC Davis Medical Center

UC Davis Medical Center
2315 Stockton Blvd.
Sacramento, CA 95817

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Research/Academic Interests

The long-term goal of the Usrey laboratory is to understand the functional properties of neural circuits that serve vision and the relationship between circuit activity, behavior and perception. Current research projects are focused on determining (1) how sensory information is processed and transmitted within and between brain areas, (2) the cellular and circuit mechanisms that mediate the effects of spatial attention on visual processing, (3) the role of feedback pathways for vision, (4) the relationship between neural activity and visual perception, and (5) the molecular, cellular, and circuit mechanisms that establish parallel processing streams in the prenatal retina. Using an arsenal of techniques that includes whole-cell and multielectrode recordings from the isolated retina along with molecular phenotyping of identified cells, single and multielectrode recordings, optogenetic manipulation of neuronal activity, and fMRI, we are discovering how sensory information is established and encoded in brain activity, as well as the mechanisms employed by the brain for communicating information dynamically from one level to the next. The Usrey laboratory is also home to Brainmaps.org, an interactive, high-resolution digital brain atlas and virtual microscope for students, educators, and researchers.

Our research is funded by the NIH, the NSF, the McKnight Foundation, the Esther A. and Joseph Klingenstein Foundation, and the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation.



Center/Program Affiliation

Center for Neuroscience

Undergraduate School

B.A., Animal Physiology, UC San Diego, San Diego CA 1987

Other School

M.S., Physiology, San Diego State University, San Diego CA 1989

Other School

Ph.D., Neurobiology, Duke University, Durham NC 1994


Neurobiology, Harvard Medical School, Boston MA 1996-1999

Barbara A. Horwitz and John M. Horowitz Endowed Chair in Physiology, College of Biological Sciences, UC Davis, 2018

Outstanding Graduate Mentor in Neuroscience Award - Neuroscience Graduate Group, UC Davis, 2015

Scientific Innovations Award, Brain Research Foundation, 2012

Faculty Research Award (Research Article of the Year), College of Biological Sciences, UC Davis, 2012

Presidential Early Career Award for Scientists and Engineers (PECASE), 2002

Alexander PC, Alitto HJ, Fisher TG, Rathbun DL, Weyand TG, Usrey WM. Dynamics of Temporal Integration in the Lateral Geniculate Nucleus. eNeuro. 2022 Aug 23;9(4):ENEURO.0088-22.2022. doi:10.1523/ENEURO.0088-22.2022. PMID:35927025.

Usrey WM, Sherman SM. Evolution, homology, cell classification, and parallel processing for vision. In Oxford Research Encyclopedia of Neuroscience. Oxford University Press. 2022 Jun 20. doi:10.1093/acrefore/9780190264086.013.414.

Lankow BS, Usrey WM. Contextual Modulation of Feedforward Inputs to Primary Visual Cortex. Front Syst Neurosci. 2022 Feb 1;16:818633. doi:10.3389/fnsys.2022.818633. PMID:35177969.

Sherman SM, Usrey WM. Cortical control of behavior and attention from an evolutionary perspective. Neuron. 2021 Oct 6;109(19):3048-3054. doi:10.1016/j.neuron.2021.06.021. Epub 2021 Jul 22. PMID:34297915.

Usrey WM, Sherman SM. Exploring Thalamocortical Interactions: Circuitry for Sensation, Action, and Cognition. Oxford University Press. 2021 Sep. doi:10.1093/med/9780197503874.001.0001.

Archer DR, Alitto HJ, Usrey WM. Stimulus Contrast Affects Spatial Integration in the Lateral Geniculate Nucleus of Macaque Monkeys. J Neurosci. 2021 Jun 7;41(29):6246–56. doi:10.1523/JNEUROSCI.2946-20.2021. Epub ahead of print. PMID:34103362.

Usrey WM, Kastner S. Functions of the visual thalamus in selective attention. Poeppel D, Gazzaniga MS, GR Mangun GR (Eds). The Cognitive Neurosciences, 6th edition, MIT Press. 2020 Apr 21;32. doi:10.7551/mitpress/11442.003.0042.

Alitto H, Rathbun DL, Vandeleest JJ, Alexander PC, Usrey WM. The Augmentation of Retinogeniculate Communication during Thalamic Burst Mode. J Neurosci. 2019 Jul 17;39(29):5697-5710. doi:10.1523/JNEUROSCI.2320-18.2019. Epub 2019 May 20. PMID:31109958.

Alitto HJ, Rathbun DL, Fisher TG, Alexander PC, Usrey WM. Contrast gain control and retinogeniculate communication. Eur J Neurosci. 2019 Apr;49(8):1061-1068. doi:10.1111/ejn.13904. Epub 2018 Mar 23. PMID:29520859.

Kiley CW, Usrey WM. Cortical Processing of Visual Signals. Pfaff DW, Volkow ND, Rubenstein J (eds). Neuroscience in the 21st Century, Springer, New York NY. 2021. doi:10.1007/978-1-4614-6434-1_24-4.