Pathway-Specific Asymmetries between ON and OFF Visual Signals.

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Visual processing is largely organized into ON and OFF pathways that signal stimulus increments and decrements, respectively. These pathways exhibit natural pairings based on morphological and physiological similarities, such as ON and OFF α-ganglion cells in the mammalian retina. Several studies have noted asymmetries in the properties of ON and OFF pathways. For example, the spatial receptive fields (RFs) of OFF α-cells are systematically smaller than ON α-cells. Analysis of natural scenes suggests that these asymmetries are optimal for visual encoding. To test the generality of ON/OFF asymmetries, we measured the spatiotemporal RF properties of multiple RGC types in rat retina. Through a quantitative and serial classification, we identified three functional pairs of ON and OFF RGCs. We analyzed the structure of their RFs and compared spatial integration, temporal integration, and gain across ON and OFF pairs. Similar to previous results from the cat and primate, RGC types with larger spatial RFs exhibited briefer temporal integration and higher gain. However, each pair of ON and OFF RGC types exhibited distinct asymmetric relationships between RF properties, some of which were opposite to the findings of previous reports. These results reveal the functional organization of six RGC types in the rodent retina and indicate that ON/OFF asymmetries are pathway specific.SIGNIFICANCE STATEMENT Circuits that process sensory input frequently process increments separately from decrements, so-called ON and OFF responses. Theoretical studies indicate that this separation, and associated asymmetries in ON and OFF pathways, may be beneficial for encoding natural stimuli. However, the generality of ON and OFF pathway asymmetries has not been tested. Here we compare the functional properties of three distinct pairs of ON and OFF pathways in the rodent retina and show that their asymmetries are pathway specific. These results provide a new view on the partitioning of vision across diverse ON and OFF signaling pathways.





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Ravi, Sneha, Daniel Ahn, Martin Greschner, EJ Chichilnisky and Greg D Field (2018). Pathway-Specific Asymmetries between ON and OFF Visual Signals. The Journal of neuroscience : the official journal of the Society for Neuroscience, 38(45). pp. 9728–9740. 10.1523/jneurosci.2008-18.2018 Retrieved from

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Greg D. Field

Adjunct Associate Professor of Neurobiology

My laboratory studies how the retina processes visual scenes and transmits this information to the brain.  We use multi-electrode arrays to record the activity of hundreds of retina neurons simultaneously in conjunction with transgenic mouse lines and chemogenetics to manipulate neural circuit function. We are interested in three major areas. First, we work to understand how neurons in the retina are functionally connected. Second we are studying how light-adaptation and circadian rhythms alter visual processing in the retina. Finally, we are working to understand the mechanisms of retinal degenerative conditions and we are investigating potential treatments in animal models.

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