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Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2009 Sep 22;106(38):16499-504. doi: 10.1073/pnas.0908926106. Epub 2009 Sep 10.

Predictable irregularities in retinal receptive fields.

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Computational Neurobiology Laboratory and Molecular Neurobiology Laboratory, The Salk Institute for Biological Studies, La Jolla, CA 92037, USA.


Understanding how the nervous system achieves reliable performance using unreliable components is important for many disciplines of science and engineering, in part because it can suggest ways to lower the energetic cost of computing. In vision, retinal ganglion cells partition visual space into approximately circular regions termed receptive fields (RFs). Average RF shapes are such that they would provide maximal spatial resolution if they were centered on a perfect lattice. However, individual shapes have fine-scale irregularities. Here, we find that irregular RF shapes increase the spatial resolution in the presence of lattice irregularities from approximately 60% to approximately 92% of that possible for a perfect lattice. Optimization of RF boundaries around their fixed center positions reproduced experimental observations neuron-by-neuron. Our results suggest that lattice irregularities determine the shapes of retinal RFs and that similar algorithms can improve the performance of retinal prosthetics where substantial irregularities arise at their interface with neural tissue.

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