Vernon Benjamin Mountcastle

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Vernon Mountcastle
Vernon Benjamin Mountcastle

(1918-07-15)July 15, 1918
DiedJanuary 14, 2015(2015-01-14) (aged 96)
EducationRoanoke College
Spouse(s)Nancy Clayton
Scientific career
InstitutionsJohns Hopkins University
InfluencedDonald S. Gann

Vernon Benjamin Mountcastle (July 15, 1918 – January 11, 2015) was Professor Emeritus of Neuroscience at Johns Hopkins University. He discovered and characterized the columnar organization of the cerebral cortex in the 1950s. This discovery was a turning point in investigations of the cerebral cortex, as nearly all cortical studies of sensory function after Mountcastle's 1957 paper,[1] on the somatosensory cortex, used columnar organization as their basis.[2][3][4][5][6][7][8]

Education and early life[edit]

Mountcastle was born in Shelbyville, Kentucky. He was a graduate of Roanoke College in Virginia, where he was a member of the Sigma Chi Fraternity.[9]

Research and career[edit]

Mountcastle's interest in cognition, specifically perception, led him to guide his laboratory to studies that linked perception and neural responses in the 1960s. Although there were several notable works from his laboratory, the highest profile early paper appeared in 1968,[10] a study explaining the neural basis of Flutter and vibration by the action of peripheral mechanoreceptors.[11][12]

In 1978 Mountcastle proposed that all parts of the neocortex operate through a common principle, with the cortical column being the unit of computation.[13]

Mountcastle's devotion to studies of single unit neural coding evolved through his leadership in the Bard Laboratories of Neurophysiology at the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine, which for many years, was the only institute in the world devoted to this sub-field. Its work is continued today in the Zanvyl Krieger Mind/Brain Institute. Mountcastle died in Baltimore at the age of 96 in January 2015.[14]

Awards and honours[edit]

Mountcastle was elected to the National Academy of Sciences in 1966. In 1978, he was awarded the Louisa Gross Horwitz Prize from Columbia University together with David Hubel and Torsten Wiesel, both of whom received the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine in 1981. In 1980, he was awarded the Ralph W. Gerard Prize in Neuroscience. In 1981, Mountcastle became a founding member of the World Cultural Council.[15] In 1983, he was awarded the Albert Lasker Award for Basic Medical Research. In 1984, Mountcastle received the Golden Plate Award of the American Academy of Achievement.[16] He also received the United States National Medal of Science in 1986. In 1998, Mountcastle was awarded the NAS Award in the Neurosciences from the National Academy of Sciences.[17]

David Hubel in his Nobel Prize acceptance speech said Mountcastle's "discovery of columns in the somatosensory cortex was surely the single most important contribution to the understanding of cerebral cortex since Ramón y Cajal".[18]

Jeff Hawkins in his book On Intelligence describes Mountcastle's 1978 article, An organizing principle..., as "the rosetta stone of neuroscience".[19]


  1. ^ Mountcastle, V. B. (1957). "Modality and topographic properties of single neurons of cat's somatic sensory cortex". Journal of Neurophysiology. 20 (4): 408–34. doi:10.1152/jn.1957.20.4.408. PMID 13439410.
  2. ^ Snyder, S. H. (2015). "Vernon B. Mountcastle 1918-2015". Nature Neuroscience. 18 (3): 318. doi:10.1038/nn.3958. PMID 25686477.
  3. ^ Martin, Kevan (2015). "Vernon B. Mountcastle (1918–2015) Discoverer of the repeating organization of neurons in the mammalian cortex". Nature. 518 (7539): 304. doi:10.1038/518304a. PMID 25693556.
  4. ^ Vernon Mountcastle (1978), "An Organizing Principle for Cerebral Function: The Unit Model and the Distributed System", The Mindful Brain (Gerald M. Edelman and Vernon B. Mountcastle, eds.) Cambridge, Massachusetts: MIT Press.
  5. ^ Vernon Mountcastle (1998), Perceptual neuroscience: the cerebral cortex, Cambridge, Massachusetts: Harvard University Press, ISBN 978-0-674-66188-2.
  6. ^ Vernon Mountcastle (2005), The sensory hand: neural mechanisms of somatic sensation, Cambridge, Massachusetts: Harvard University Press, ISBN 978-0-674-01974-4.
  7. ^ Mountcaslte: the Brain Voyager
  8. ^ Mountcastle, V. B.; Lynch, J. C.; Georgopoulos, A; Sakata, H; Acuna, C (1975). "Posterior parietal association cortex of the monkey: Command functions for operations within extrapersonal space". Journal of Neurophysiology. 38 (4): 871–908. doi:10.1152/jn.1975.38.4.871. PMID 808592.
  9. ^ Significant Sigs: Vernon Mountcastle
  10. ^ Talbot, W. H.; Darian-Smith, I; Kornhuber, H. H.; Mountcastle, V. B. (1968). "The sense of flutter-vibration: Comparison of the human capacity with response patterns of mechanoreceptive afferents from the monkey hand". Journal of Neurophysiology. 31 (2): 301–34. doi:10.1152/jn.1968.31.2.301. PMID 4972033.
  11. ^ Vernon Benjamin Mountcastle's publications indexed by the Scopus bibliographic database. (subscription required)
  12. ^ List of publications from Microsoft Academic
  13. ^ Mountcastle, V. B. (1978), "An Organizing Principle for Cerebral Function: The Unit Model and the Distributed System", in Gerald M. Edelman and Vernon B. Mountcastle (eds.), The Mindful Brain, MIT PressCS1 maint: uses editors parameter (link)
  14. ^ Vernon Mountcastle, neuroscientist dubbed ‘the Jacques Cousteau of the cortex,’ dies, Washington Post
  15. ^ "About Us". World Cultural Council. Retrieved November 8, 2016.
  16. ^ "Golden Plate Awardees of the American Academy of Achievement". American Academy of Achievement.
  17. ^ "Daniel Giraud Elliot Medal". National Academy of Sciences. Archived from the original on August 1, 2012. Retrieved 16 February 2011.
  18. ^ Hubel, David H. "Nobel lecture" (PDF). Retrieved 16 February 2011.
  19. ^ On Intelligence, 2004, Jeff Hawkins, page 52