The squirrel as a rodent model of the human visual system

Vis Neurosci. Sep-Oct 2006;23(5):765-78. doi: 10.1017/S0952523806230098.


Over the last 50 years, studies of receptive fields in the early mammalian visual system have identified many classes of response properties in brain areas such as retina, lateral geniculate nucleus (LGN), and primary visual cortex (V1). Recently, there has been significant interest in understanding the cellular and network mechanisms that underlie these visual responses and their functional architecture. Small mammals like rodents offer many advantages for such studies, because they are appropriate for a wide variety of experimental techniques. However, the traditional rodent models, mice and rats, do not rely heavily on vision and have small visual brain areas. Squirrels are highly visual rodents that may be excellent model preparations for understanding mechanisms of function and disease in the human visual system. They use vision for navigating in their environment, predator avoidance, and foraging for food. Visual brain areas such as LGN, V1, superior colliculus, and pulvinar are particularly large and well elaborated in the squirrel, and the squirrel has several extrastriate cortical areas lateral to V1. Unlike many mammals, most squirrel species are diurnal with cone-dominated retinas, similar to the primate fovea, and have excellent dichromatic color vision that is mediated by green and blue cones. Owing to their larger size, squirrels are physiologically more robust than mice and rats under anesthesia, and some hibernating species are particularly tolerant of hypoxia that occurs during procedures such as brain slicing. Finally, many basic anatomical and physiological properties in the early visual system of squirrel have now been described, permitting investigations of cellular mechanisms. In this article, we review four decades of anatomical, behavioral, and physiological studies in squirrel and make comparisons with other species.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Brain Mapping*
  • Humans
  • Mice
  • Models, Animal*
  • Rats
  • Sciuridae / anatomy & histology*
  • Sciuridae / physiology
  • Visual Pathways / anatomy & histology*
  • Visual Pathways / physiology*