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About Our Lab

Zachary W. Davis, PhD, is primarily interested in cortical mechanisms of visual perception and how these mechanisms are altered by damage or disease in the visual system. Dr. Davis began his career studying the development of the retina and thalamus as a graduate student at the University of California, Davis. As a postdoctoral researcher at the Salk Institute for Biological Studies, he studied how intrinsic cortical activity shapes perceptual sensitivity.

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Helping Patients



Working to Understand the Mechanisms of Visual Perception

Light sensing is a process that occurs in the eye, but our experience of vision is a product of a complex interaction of many circuits and systems in the brain. While the light that falls on the retina might contain all sorts of information about the external world, our perception of that information is filtered by inferences based on the specific goals and expectations we may have at any given moment and our learned understanding of how the world works. 

Our lab aims to understand the cellular, circuit, and system interactions in the brain that give rise to our conscious perception of visual information and the mechanisms by which light sensed by the eye is transformed into visual information that guides our decisions and actions.

Current research projects:

  • How does the biophysical constraints of neural activity moving through cortical circuits impact sensory processing and visual perception?
  • How does the loss of visual input through peripheral retinal degeneration, as occurs in glaucoma patients, change the way the brain represents sensory information in the visual periphery?
  • How do cortical areas balance discrepancies between ambiguous or uncertain visual information captured by the retina and internal representations based on learned statistical expectations during decision-making?
Zachary W. Davis, PhD
Zachary W. Davis, PhD

Research Interests

  • Psychophysical interrogations of the limits of visual perception.
  • Novel tools for recording and manipulating neural activity.
  • Investigating anatomical and functional cortical plasticity following damage or disease in the visual system.
  • Understanding how aging impacts the normal health function of cortical systems involved in visual perception.

How Does Our Research Help Patients?

how glaucoma affects vision

One disease of particular interest to the Davis Lab is glaucoma, a progressive degeneration of the peripheral retina that impairs sensitivity for visual information outside our central focus. However, patients with glaucoma are often unaware of their impairment as the brain has a remarkable capability to fill in for the lost information based on inferences formed from recent visual exploration and learned knowledge about the statistical regularities of our visual world. 

By studying the mechanisms of how the brain generates our visual perception through this process of information gathering and inference, we may gain insight into how glaucoma patients compensate for their visual impairment and may generate novel programs for early diagnosis, treatment, or recovery of visual function.

The Davis Lab is collaborating with the Alan S. Crandall Center for Glaucoma Innovation and other researchers studying mechanisms and treatments of this disease to improve our knowledge of visual function and innovate new diagnostic and treatment strategies to improve outcomes for patients. Vision depends upon light sensing by the eye, but our experience of vision, our perception of objects in space in the external world, is a product of the brain's activity. The Davis Lab seeks to understand how changes may occur in the brain with glaucoma and how treatment affects not only the disease but also the function of the visual system.

Research Publications

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    Zachary W. Davis, PhD, principal investigator