Light adaptation in the primate retina: Analysis of changes in gain and dynamics of monkey retinal ganglion cells

Keith Purpura, Daniel Tranchina, Ehud Kaplan, Robert M. Shapley

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168 Scopus citations


The responses of monkey retinal ganglion cells to sinusoidal stimuli of various temporal frequencies were measured and analyzed at a number of mean light levels. Temporal modulation tuning functions (TMTFs) were measured at each mean level by varying the drift rate of a sine-wave grating of fixed spatial frequency and contrast. The changes seen in ganglion cell temporal responses with changes in adaptation state were similar to those observed in human subjects and in turtle horizontal cells and cones tested with sinusoidally flickering stimuli; “Weber's Law” behavior was seen at low temporal frequencies but not at higher temporal frequencies. Temporal responses were analyzed in two ways: (1) at each light level, the TMTFs were fit by a model consisting of a cascade of low- and high-pass filters; (2) the family of TMTFs collected over a range of light levels for a given cell was fit by a linear negative feedback model in which the gain of the feedback was proportional to the mean light level. Analysis (1) revealed that the temporal responses of one class of monkey ganglion cells (M cells) were more phasic at both photopic and mesopic light levels than the responses of P ganglion cells. In analysis (2), the linear negative feedback model accounted reasonably well for changes in gain and dynamics seen in three P cells and one M cell. From the feedback model, it was possible to estimate the light level at which the dark-adapted gain of the cone pathways in the primate retina fell by a factor of two. This value was two to three orders of magnitude lower than the value estimated from recordings of isolated monkey cones. Thus, while a model which includes a single stage of negative feedback can account for the changes in gain and dynamics associated with light adaptation in the photopic and mesopic ranges of vision, the underlying physical mechanisms are unknown and may involve elements in the primate retina other than the cone.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)75-93
Number of pages19
JournalVisual Neuroscience
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jan 1990
Externally publishedYes


  • Dynamics
  • Light adaptation
  • Primate retina


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