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Colour Perception in The Brain Unlocked

Editor's Note: Editor's Note: This article is reprinted with permission of ABC Online, January 31, 2003. Visit the Lab, ABC Science Online at

Scientists have discovered how the brain perceives colour in a finding that could one day help people who have lost their sight.

By studying macaque monkeys, researchers at the University of Texas-Houston Medical School have shown how modules of cells called "thin stripes" in a particular region of the brain are arranged and perceive colours.

"This finding provides the first physiological basis for the perception of the full gamut of colour," said Daniel Felleman, a professor of neurobiology and anatomy.

Felleman and his team mapped changes in blood flow along the stripes in the brains of the monkeys while showing them a series of colour. Their findings are reported in the science journal Nature.

While looking at different colours, the blood flow peaks in the brains of the monkeys shifted systematically in specific portions of the stripes. An area with a peak flow for red was next to the portion that peaked for orange, then yellow, etc.

"We believe that the brain uses a spatial code for colour such that the location of the peak activity within these colour maps determines the colour that you see," Felleman added in a statement.

Although the research was done in macaques, the scientists believe mechanisms in the human brain would work in a similar way, and that the knowledge could be used to develop devices to help the blind.

"You always hope that knowing the basic mechanisms of brain coding and perceptual processing would allow you to some day have a prosthetic aid that would activate the brain in the same way that the eye normally does," Felleman added.

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