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J Physiol. 1969 Jan;200(1):1-24.

Three factors limiting the reliable detection of light by retinal ganglion cells of the cat.


1. Responses of cat retinal ganglion cells have been examined with a view to specifying the characteristics that limit the detection of light stimuli.2. Threshold is defined as the weakest stimulus that can be reliably detected by examination of the output from a retinal ganglion cell; it depends upon (a) the quantum/spike ratio, which is the mean number of additional quantal absorptions required to produce an additional impulse, (b) the temporal course of the response, which determines the time interval within which the maintained discharge is modified, and (c) the statistical distribution of the number of impulses that occur in this time interval in the absence of the stimulus.3. The quantum/spike ratio changes greatly when adapting luminance is changed, and this is the predominant factor accounting for changes in increment threshold.4. The time course of the response changes with adaptation level and area of the stimulus. This may account for the changes in temporal integration that occur in analogous psychophysical experiments.5. Changes in the irregularity of the maintained discharge also affect the threshold of single ganglion cells. This is only a minor factor in the conditions of most of our experiments, but it may be important when unstabilized images and non-equilibrium adaptation conditions are encountered.

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