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Australian study demonstrates newborn visual pathway vital to reaching and grasping behaviour

04 January 2018
Credit: Liv Bruce
A discovery led by Australian scientists at the Australian Regenerative Medicine Institute at Monash University published today, confirms the importance of the transient visual pathway in supporting the reach and grasp response commonly seen in newborn primates within the first few hours or days after birth.

'This discovery demonstrates the presence and importance of the early vision system in the newborn,' said Associate Professor James Bourne, Group Leader at ARMI.

Published in PNAS, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America, the study provides evidence that the development of normal primate reaching and grasping, vision-guided behaviours, depends on a transient visual pathway that is present only in the first few months after birth.

The information from the newborn retina relays information to a brain region called the pulvinar, and subsequently to another brain region called the middle temporal (MT) area that stimulates a reach response.

‘Many newborns, primates and human, demonstrate a reach and grasp behaviour within hours and days from birth. This behaviour relies upon a rudimentary vision system that is functional from birth,’ said Assoc. Prof Bourne.

‘The transient newborn visual pathway develops quickly over the new few months to create deeper, increasingly more permanent visual pathway connections in the brain as the infant matures into a child. Our research on marmoset monkeys demonstrated that an interruption to this transient new born visual pathway will impair reaching and grasping behaviours and co-ordination in adulthood.’

A major hallmark of primate evolution is the use of vision to guide precise manual actions such as reaching, grasping, and manipulating objects in the environment.

According to the authors, the emergence of this pathway is likely to be a unique and an important adaptation that fundamentally shapes primate behaviour and cognition.

Associate Professor James Bourne is a Chief Investigator with Stem Cells Australia.

Source: Australian Regenerative Medicine Institute at Monash University.