Judith A. Hirsch

Department of Biological Sciences/Neurobiology
Neuroscience Graduate Program

Judith A. Hirsch

Research Images

Reconstruction of a pyramidal neuron in visual cortex.

Research Overview

The brain is able to translate pixelated retinal signals into a coherent perception of the visual world. Our research explores how the early visual pathway contributes to this task. Past studies concentrated on the primary visual cortex. Our current focus is the visual thalamus, including the lateral geniculate and overlying thalamic reticular nucleus. We ask how retinal input coupled with circuits intrinsic to thalamus help resolve elements of the visual scene and transmit information downstream. The main approach is whole-cell recording with dye-filled electrodes in vivo, complemented with other physiological and anatomical techniques. Thus, we are to resolve synaptic integration during vision and correlate physiological response with position in the local microcircuit. Further, we maintain ongoing collaborations with theorists, which help to guide experimental design and develop methods to analyze and model the unique types of data we obtain.
Individual projects are designed to explore key aspects of thalamic integration such as interaction between synaptic input and intrinsic properties of the membrane, implications of retinal divergence and convergence and specialization of local inhibitory circuits for feature detection and information processing.

Contact Information

Mailing Address University of Southern California
3641 Watt Way HNB 328
Los Angeles, CA 90089-2520
Office Location HNB 503A
Office Phone (213) 821-2210
Lab Location HNB 503
Lab Phone (213) 821-2406
Office Location HNB 503A



  • Ph.D., Neurophysiology, University of Wisconsin, Madison, 1986

Selected Publications

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  • Martinez, LM, Molano-Mazon, M, Wang, X, Sommer, FT and Hirsch, JA (2014) Statistical wiring of thalamic receptive fields optimizes spatial sampling of the retinal image. Neuron. 81: 943-956. 

  • Vaingankar V, Soto Sanchez C, Wang, X, Sommer FT, Hirsch JA (2012) Neurons in the thalamic reticular nucleus are selective for complex visual features, Front. Integr. Neurosci. 6:118.

    PubMed Link
  • Wang X, Vaingankar V, Soto Sanchez C, Sommer FT, Hirsch JA. (2011) Thalamic interneurons and relay cells use complementary synaptic mechanisms for visual processing. Nat. Neurosci. 14(2) 224 - 231. PubMed Link
  • Wang, X and Sommer FT, Hirsch, JA. (2011)  Inhibitory circuits for visual processing in thalamus. Curr. Opin. Neurobiol., 21: 726-733 PubMed Link
  •  Wang X, Hirsch JA, Sommer FT. (2010) Recoding of sensory information across the retinothalamic synapse. J. Neurosci. 30:13567-13577.

    PubMed Link
  • Koepsell, K, Wang, X, Vaingankar, V, Wei, Y., Wang, Q, Rathbun, DL, Usrey, WM, Hirsch, JA and Sommer, FT (2009). Retinal oscillations carry visual information to cortex. Front. Sys. Neurosci. .3, article 4. PubMed Link
  • Wang, X, Wei, Y, Wang, Q, Vaingankar, V, Koepsell, K, Sommer, FT, and Hirsch, JA. (2007) Feedforward excitation and inhibition evoke dual modes of firing in the cat's visual thalamus during naturalistic viewing. Neuron. 55: 465-478

    PubMed Link
  • Hirsch JA, Martinez LM. (2006) Circuits that build visual cortical receptive fields.Trends Neurosci. 29(1):30-39. PubMed Link
  • Martinez LM, Wang Q, Reid RC, Pillai C, Alonso JM, Sommer FT, Hirsch JA. (2005) Receptive field structure varies with layer in the primary visual cortex. Nat Neurosci. 8(3):372-379.  PubMed Link
  • Hirsch JA, Martinez LM, Pillai C, Alonso JM, Wang Q, Sommer FT. (2003) Functionally distinct inhibitory neurons at the first stage of visual cortical processing. Nat Neurosci. 6(12):1300-1338. PubMed Link