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The Phillips laboratory focuses on the neural control of eye movement and the vestibular sensory system. In our primary basic scientific research, we record the activity of single brain cells during eye and head movement, and in response to rotation, tilt and translation to understand the ways that sensory signals are converted into motor commands. We specifically examine natural behaviors that combine eye and head movement to change the line of sight.

A second area of interest is the development of sensory processing and movement control. To study this, we record the eye and head movements of human infants and children, and compare them to adults. In addition, in association with the Infant Primate Research Laboratory in the Center on Human Development and Disability (CHDD), we record eye movements in infant monkeys, using the same techniques that we use in human infants. This research allows us to use existing knowledge of non-human primate neurophysiology to understand developing neural circuits in humans.

A third line of research in our laboratory studies the mechanisms of adaptation of motor behavior. In these experiments, we examine the gravitational contexts that provide cues to control changes in motor behavior. Subjects are placed in rotators, tilt chairs, and rooms that project interesting objects that move unexpectedly to simulate errors in eye movement. The objective of this research is to understand the cues and neural machinery that astronauts and patients with balance disorders use to modify their behavior when their vestibular and visual systems fail to provide accurate information.

A fourth area of inquiry is the study of the genetic influences on vestibular and oculomotor function. First, since the primary species used in genetic experiments is the mouse, working with Dr. Chris Kaneko, we have developed a simple eye movement measurement and vestibular rotation system that can quickly and easily be applied to mice. In this way, we can study the pathways and behaviors that are affected in animal models of human genetic diseases.

We also study disorders of human vestibular function in adults. We perform research and provide clinical services in the department of Otolaryngology-HNS Clinic at UW Medical Center. Our focus in this facility is developing new testing modalities for the diagnosis of vestibular disorders. and studying the genetic basis of vestibular loss.

In addition to vestibular loss, many children suffer from eye movement problems as a consequence of brain tumors, metabolic diseases, visual loss, CNS malformations, autism, and craniofacial disorders. In the division of Ophthalmology at Children's Hospital, we carry out research and provide clinical services in the Clinical Oculomotor Laboratory. Our focus is to provide better diagnosis and treatment of these disorders, as well as to discover the etiology of some of the behavioral manifestations of these problems.

Our research is supported by the National Institutes of Health (NIH), the National Alliance for Autism Research (NAAR), and the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA).

James Phillips, Education in Brief