A computational model of electrical stimulation of the retinal ganglion cell

IEEE Trans Biomed Eng. 1999 May;46(5):505-14. doi: 10.1109/10.759051.


Localized retinal electrical stimulation in blind volunteers results in discrete round visual percepts corresponding to the location of the stimulating electrode. The success of such an approach to provide useful vision depends on elucidating the neuronal target of surface electrical stimulation. To determine if electrodes preferentially stimulate ganglion cells directly below them or passing fibers from distant ganglion cells, we developed a compartmental model for electric field stimulation of the retinal ganglion cell (RGC). In this model a RGC is stimulated by extracellular electrical fields with active channels and realistic cell morphology derived directly from a neuronal tracing. Three membrane models were applied: a linear passive model, a Hodgkin-Huxley model with passive dendrites (HH), and a model composed of all active compartments (FCM) with five nonlinear ion channels. Idealized monopolar point and disk stimulating electrodes were positioned above the cell. For the HH and FCM models, the position of lowest cathodal threshold to propagate an action potential was over the soma. Brief (100 microseconds) cathodic stimuli were 20% (HH with disk electrode) to 73% (FCM with point-source) more effective over the soma than over the axon. In the passive model, the axon is preferentially stimulated versus the soma. Although it may be possible to electrically stimulate RGC's near their cell body at lower thresholds than at their axon, these differences are relatively small. Alternative explanations should be sought to explain the focal perceptions observed in previously reported patient trials.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Action Potentials / physiology*
  • Animals
  • Computer Simulation*
  • Electric Stimulation
  • Electrodes
  • Electromagnetic Fields
  • Ion Channels / metabolism
  • Linear Models
  • Models, Neurological*
  • Necturus maculosus
  • Nonlinear Dynamics
  • Retinal Ganglion Cells / physiology*


  • Ion Channels