John Maunsell is the Alfred D Lasker Professor of Neurobiology at the University of Chicago, where he also serves as director of the university’s Neuroscience Institute. He studies the functional organization of visual cerebral cortex, with emphasis on the rapid changes in neuronal representations related to shifting attention from one object of interest to another. Maunsell graduated from Duke University with a degree in zoology and received his PhD in biology from the California Institute of Technology. He did postdoctoral research at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. He joined the Physiology faculty at the University of Rochester and later held faculty positions in Neuroscience at Baylor College of Medicine and Neurobiology at Harvard Medical School before taking his current position at the University of Chicago. He is a member of both the National Academy of Sciences and American Academy of Arts and Sciences.

Research Interests

John Maunsell's laboratory studies the neuronal mechanisms that select and access specific sensory representations to guide behavior. Much of this effort is directed at understanding how sensory representations in cerebral cortex change when attentions shifts from one object to another. Recording from neurons in trained, behaving monkeys, they have shown that neural signals throughout much of visual cortex are greatly affected by attention. The responses of individual neurons to visual stimuli are typically stronger and less variable when an animal attends to the stimulus they represent. They also found that these large attention-related enhancements in neuronal responses depend on a specific form of non-linear summation that is found in sensory circuits. A complementary line of research in Maunsell?s lab examines the sensitivity and spatiotemporal characteristics of the mechanisms that read behaviorally relevant sensory signals from cortex. Using optogenetic stimulation of cortical neurons in mice trained to respond to visual stimuli, they have found that different cell classes in visual cortex make distinct contributions to visual perception. Precisely timed perturbations of cortical activity have shown that a cortical area?s contribution to detecting a stimulus can be limited to a very brief interval after the stimulus appears.

Membership Type


Election Year


Primary Section

Section 28: Systems Neuroscience