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Vernon Benjamin Mountcastle (born July 15, 1918 in Shelbyville, Kentucky) is a retired neuroscientist from the 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. Indeed, 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 Cajal".[2] Mountcastle's interest in cognition, specifically perception, led him to guide his lab to studies that linked perception and neural responses in the 1960s. Although there were several notable works from his lab, the highest profile early paper was in 1968 [3], a study explaining the neural basis of flutter and vibration by the action of peripheral mechanoreceptors. Mountcastle's devotion to studies of single unit neural coding evolved through his leadership in the Bard Labs of Neurophysiology at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, which was for many years the only institute in the world devoted to this sub-field, and its work is continued today in the Krieger Mind/Brain Institute. He is University Professor Emeritus of Neuroscience Johns Hopkins University.

Professor 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, who both received the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine in 1981. In 1983, he was awarded the Albert Lasker Award for Basic Medical Research. He also received the United States National Medal of Science in 1986.

Professor Mountcastle is a graduate of Roanoke College in Virginia.


  • 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, MA: MIT Press.

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