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Vision Res. 1998 Jan;38(1):19-36.

Light adaptation of cone photoresponses studied at the photoreceptor and ganglion cell levels in the frog retina.

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Department of Biosciences, University of Helsinki, Finland.


The sensitivity and time scale of the dominant (562 nm) cone system of the frog, Rana temporaria, were studied as functions of steady adapting illuminance (IB). Photoreceptor responses to brief flashes of light were recorded as aspartate-isolated ERG mass potentials from the isolated retina. The characteristics of the cone signal after transmission through the retina were derived from response thresholds and stimulus--intensity-response--latency functions for extracellularly recorded spike discharges of single ganglion cells in the eyecup. At 14 degrees C, the single-photon response of dark-adapted cones, extrapolated from ERG intensity-response functions, had an amplitude of 0.5% of the saturated response (Umax) and peaked at tp approximately 0.4 sec. Steady background illumination decreased both tp and flash sensitivity (SF), starting from apparent "dark lights" of, respectively, less than 10 (for time scale) and about 100 (for sensitivity) photoisomerisations per cone per second [P*sec-1]. From there upwards, two distinct ranges of background adaptation were apparent. Under moderate backgrounds (up to IB approximately 10(4) - 10(5) P*sec-1), sensitivity fell according to the relation SF alpha IB-0.64 and time scale shortened according to tp alpha IB-0.16. Under brighter backgrounds, from approx. 10(5) P*sec-1 up to the limit of our light source at 10(7) P*sec-1, the decrease in SF was significantly stronger than predicted by the Weber relation (SF alpha IB-1), while the decrease in tp levelled out and even tended to reverse. All these changes were virtually identical at the photoreceptor and ganglion cell levels, although the absolute time scale of cone signals apparent at the latter level was 2-fold longer. Our general conclusion is that photoreceptors have several distinct regimes for light adaptation, and traditional descriptions of functional changes (in sensitivity and kinetics) relevant to vision need to be restated with higher resolution, in view also of recent insights into the diversity of underlying mechanisms.

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