Functions of the ON and OFF channels of the visual system.

Schiller PH; Sandell JH; Maunsell JH
Nature, 1986 Aug, 322:6082, 824-5.

In the mammalian eye, the ON-centre and OFF-centre retinal ganglion cells form two major pathways projecting to central visual structures from the retina. These two pathways originate at the bipolar cell level: one class of bipolar cells becomes hyperpolarized in response to light, as do all photoreceptor cells, and the other class becomes depolarized on exposure to light, thereby inverting the receptor signal. It has recently become possible to examine the functional role of the ON-pathway in vision by selectively blocking it at the bipolar cell level using the glutamate neurotransmitter analogue 2-amino-4-phosphonobutyrate (APB)1. APB application to monkey, cat and rabbit retinas abolishes ON responses in retinal ganglion cells, the lateral geniculate nucleus and the visual cortex but has no effect on the centre-surround antagonism of OFF cells or the orientation and direction selectivities in the cortex2-5. These and related findings6-11 suggest that the ON and OFF pathways remain largely separate through the lateral geniculate nucleus and that in the cortex, contrary to some hypotheses, they are not directly involved in mechanisms giving rise to orientation and direction selectivities. We have examined the roles of the ON and OFF channels in vision in rhesus monkeys trained to do visual detection and discrimination tasks. We report here that the ON channel is reversibly blocked by injection of APB into the vitreous. Detection of light increment but not of light decrement is severely impaired, and there is a pronounced loss in contrast sensitivity. The perception of shape, colour, flicker, movement and stereo images is only mildly impaired, but longer times are required for their discrimination. Our results suggest that two reasons that the mammalian visual system has both ON and OFF channels is to yield equal sensitivity and rapid information transfer for both incremental and decremental light stimuli and to facilitate high contrast sensitivity.

Unique Identifier 86311310
Publication Type JOURNAL ARTICLE
ISSN 0028-0836
Country of Publication ENGLAND