Contrast adaptation in human retina and cortex

Invest Ophthalmol Vis Sci. 2001 Oct;42(11):2721-7.


Purpose: Although cortical contrast adaptation has been extensively studied with both psychophysical and electrophysiological techniques, little is known about retinal contrast adaptation in humans.

Methods: Retinal and cortical long-term contrast adaptation was assessed with simultaneous measurement of pattern electroretinogram (PERG) and cortical visual evoked potentials (VEPs). This study involved three approaches: sampling of the contrast transfer function from 2.7% to 98% with adaptation to high (98%) and low (7.3%) contrasts, linearity of adaptation effects, and transfer of contrast adaptation between parallel and orthogonal grating orientations.

Results: Contrast adaptation affected retinal and cortical recordings quite differently. The VEP showed a sigmoid contrast transfer function, which was shifted toward higher contrasts (by a factor of 1.9), whereas amplitudes at higher test contrasts were enhanced to 127%. The PERG decreased in amplitude to approximately 90%, and the latency was significantly reduced by 4 to 6 msec (P < 0.05). All measured effects were linear with adaptation contrast. Orientation played no role in the PERG results, whereas the VEP was enhanced to 125% when tested parallel and to 150% when tested orthogonal to adaptation.

Conclusions: VEP results confirm and extend previous findings and fit well with single-cell recordings. The PERG findings suggest that retinal contrast adaptation occurs and mainly operates in the temporal domain, comparable to rapid gain-control findings in cats and primates.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adaptation, Ocular / physiology*
  • Contrast Sensitivity / physiology*
  • Electroretinography
  • Evoked Potentials, Visual
  • Humans
  • Pattern Recognition, Visual
  • Retina / physiology*
  • Visual Cortex / physiology*