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Colour and photosensitive epilepsy.


Red-coloured flicker is claimed to be more epileptogenic than white or that of other colours matched for subjective intensity. A feature of the colour opponent system is that the response of luminosity-sensitive cortical units to stimulation of ganglion cells of a particular spectral sensitivity is reduced when cells of other sensitivities are simultaneously stimulated. We hypothesized that the apparent effect of colour on photosensitivity was not a property of red light per se but arose simply from the fact that, with commercially available filters a light can be provided to stimulate only red sensitive cones, but owing to the overlap of the absorption spectra of the visual pigments it is difficult to stimulate only green or blue sensitive cones. Such stimulation of a single cone population can be achieved by the 'silent substitution method' which has been used for evoked response studies. In 12 photosensitive epileptic patients we find that, using stimulus intensities (less than 20 nits) at which white flicker is without effect, stimulation of either red or green cones by the silent substitution method may produce epileptiform discharges, there being a slight (and not significant) excess of patients showing a greater sensitivity for green than for red cone stimulation. The findings are considered to support the hypothesis set out above.

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