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J Neurophysiol. 2003 May;89(5):2360-9. Epub 2003 Jan 22.

Contrast threshold of a brisk-transient ganglion cell in vitro.

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Department of Neuroscience, University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine, Philadelphia 19104-6058, USA.


We measured the contrast threshold for mammalian brisk-transient ganglion cells in vitro. Spikes were recorded extracellularly in the intact retina (guinea pig) in response to a spot with sharp onset, flashed for 100 ms over the receptive field center. Probability density functions were constructed from spike responses to stimulus contrasts that bracketed threshold. Then an "ideal observer" (IO) compared additional trials to these probability distributions and decided, using a single-interval, two-alternative forced-choice procedure, which contrasts had most likely been presented. From these decisions we constructed neurometric functions that yielded the threshold contrast by linear interpolation. Based on the number of spikes in a response, the IO detected contrasts as low as 1% [4.2 +/- 0.4% (SE); n = 35]; based on the temporal pattern of spikes, the IO detected contrasts as low as 0.8% (2.8 +/- 0.2%). Contrast increments above a very low "basal contrast" were discriminated with greater sensitivity than they were detected against the background. Performance was optimal near 37 degrees C and declined with a Q(10) of about 2, similar to that of retinal metabolism. By the method used by previous in vivo studies of brisk-transient cells, our most sensitive cells had similar thresholds. The in vitro measurements thus provide an important benchmark for comparing sensitivity of neurons upstream (cone and bipolar cell) and downstream to assess efficiency of retinal and central circuits.

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