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PLoS Biol. 2007 Mar;5(3):e65.

Retinal ganglion cells can rapidly change polarity from Off to On.

Author information

Program in Biophysics, Harvard University, Cambridge, Massachusetts, United States of America.

Erratum in

  • PLoS Biol. 2007 Jul;5(7):e188.
  • PLoS Biol. 2007 May;5(5):e136.


Retinal ganglion cells are commonly classified as On-center or Off-center depending on whether they are excited predominantly by brightening or dimming within the receptive field. Here we report that many ganglion cells in the salamander retina can switch from one response type to the other, depending on stimulus events far from the receptive field. Specifically, a shift of the peripheral image--as produced by a rapid eye movement--causes a brief transition in visual sensitivity from Off-type to On-type for approximately 100 ms. We show that these ganglion cells receive inputs from both On and Off bipolar cells, and the Off inputs are normally dominant. The peripheral shift strongly modulates the strength of these two inputs in opposite directions, facilitating the On pathway and suppressing the Off pathway. Furthermore, we identify certain wide-field amacrine cells that contribute to this modulation. Depolarizing such an amacrine cell affects nearby ganglion cells in the same way as the peripheral image shift, facilitating the On inputs and suppressing the Off inputs. This study illustrates how inhibitory interneurons can rapidly gate the flow of information within a circuit, dramatically altering the behavior of the principal neurons in the course of a computation.

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