Michael Mustari

Michael Mustari
Core Staff Scientist, Neuroscience and Reproductive & Developmental Sciences divisions

Neural Control of Sensory-Motor Behavior in Normal and Strabismic Monkeys

Dr. Mustari earned his Ph.D. in Neuroanatomy from the University of Washington in 1976.  His postdoctoral work was in neurophysiology of primary visual cortex at (Dalhousie University in Canada and at the Australian National University, in Canberra, Australia) and oculomotor neurophysiology (University of Washington).  He has held faculty positions at University of Texas Medical Branch, Galveston and until recently was Professor of Neurology and Chief of the Sensory-Motor Systems Division at Yerkes National Primate Research Center in Atlanta.  Dr. Mustari moved his research program to the Washington National Primate Research Center in 2009, where he holds a position as Senior Scientist and Core Staff in Neuroscience.

Research in Dr. Mustari’s laboratory is focused on defining the neural mechanisms involved in processing sensory information (visual and vestibular) for creation of eye movement commands. His studies in normal animals are focused on the cortical smooth pursuit system and related brainstem centers.  Dr, Mustari uses a neurophysiologcial approach including multi-channel single-unit recording during reflex and volitional movements to define the signals carried in neurons of frontal eye fields (FEF) and parietal cortex areas (MT, MST) that project to the brainstem. Current research indicates that frontal and parietal cortical areas have different functional roles in transforming sensory information into eye movement commands. This work is helping to provide new knowledge necessary for improving diagnosis and treatment of disorders associated with injury or disease processes.

A major effort in Dr. Mustari’s laboratory is directed at determining the role of early visual-oculomotor experience in development of sensory-motor function.  The visual and oculomotor systems of primates are immature at birth and prone to injury.   There is a sensitive period in the first months of life where synergistic interactions of binocular visual experience and coordinated eye movements are essential for normal development.  Motivating this line of research is the fact that at least 3% of children born in the United States have abnormal eye alignment (squint, lazy-eye or strabismus), unsteady gaze-holding (nystagmus) and impaired eye movements.  These disorders are difficult to treat and often lead to loss of visual function or amblyopia.  Dr. Mustari’s studies are designed to determine some of the causes of developmental strabismus, impaired gaze-holding and defective eye movements. He has developed effective animal models for studying components of infantile strabismus-syndrome and amblyopia using specially reared infant macaques. Collaborative work with scientists at WaNPRC and other national and international Centers broadens the research to include studies of gene expression, muscle biology and neuroantomy of sensory-motor system development. This work is leading to discovering which brain regions are most involved in developmental disorders like infantile strabismus and evaluating new treatment options.