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Light adaptation controls visual sensitivity by adjusting the speed and gain of the response to light

Rider, AT; Henning, GB; Stockman, A; (2019) Light adaptation controls visual sensitivity by adjusting the speed and gain of the response to light. PLoS One , 14 (8) , Article e0220358. 10.1371/journal.pone.0220358. Green open access

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Abstract

The range of c. 1012 ambient light levels to which we can be exposed massively exceeds the <103 response range of neurons in the visual system, but we can see well in dim starlight and bright sunlight. This remarkable ability is achieved largely by a speeding up of the visual response as light levels increase, causing characteristic changes in our sensitivity to different rates of flicker. Here, we account for over 65 years of flicker-sensitivity measurements with an elegantly-simple, physiologically-relevant model built from first-order low-pass filters and subtractive inhibition. There are only two intensity-dependent model parameters: one adjusts the speed of the visual response by shortening the time constants of some of the filters in the direct cascade as well as those in the inhibitory stages; the other parameter adjusts the overall gain at higher light levels. After reviewing the physiological literature, we associate the variable gain and three of the variable-speed filters with biochemical processes in cone photoreceptors, and a further variable-speed filter with processes in ganglion cells. The variable-speed but fixed-strength subtractive inhibition is most likely associated with lateral connections in the retina. Additional fixed-speed filters may be more central. The model can explain the important characteristics of human flicker-sensitivity including the approximate dependences of low-frequency sensitivity on contrast (Weber’s law) and of high-frequency sensitivity on amplitude (“high-frequency linearity”), the exponential loss of high-frequency sensitivity with increasing frequency, and the logarithmic increase in temporal acuity with light level (Ferry-Porter law). In the time-domain, the model can account for several characteristics of flash sensitivity including changes in contrast sensitivity with light level (de Vries-Rose and Weber’s laws) and changes in temporal summation (Bloch’s law). The new model provides fundamental insights into the workings of the visual system and gives a simple account of many visual phenomena.

Type: Article
Title: Light adaptation controls visual sensitivity by adjusting the speed and gain of the response to light
Location: United States
Open access status: An open access version is available from UCL Discovery
DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0220358
Publisher version: https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0220358
Language: English
Additional information: This is an open access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original author and source are credited. http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0/
UCL classification: UCL
UCL > Provost and Vice Provost Offices > School of Life and Medical Sciences
UCL > Provost and Vice Provost Offices > School of Life and Medical Sciences > Faculty of Brain Sciences
UCL > Provost and Vice Provost Offices > School of Life and Medical Sciences > Faculty of Brain Sciences > Institute of Ophthalmology
URI: https://discovery.ucl.ac.uk/id/eprint/10079526
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