Sawtooth modulation has been used in the past to examine visual sensitivity to luminance increments and decrements. The threshold elevation caused by adaptation depends on the spatial profile of the stimulus field and the polarities of the adaptation and test stimuli. We hypothesized that the adaptation effects reflect a change in the sensitivity of the spatiotemporal channels that detect the stimuli. We used a 2-deg disk centered in a larger surround field. Five levels of contrast between the test field and surround were investigated: equiluminant, three intermediate levels, and dark. At each contrast, observers adapted for 5 s to 2-Hz sawtooth modulation (rapid-on or rapid-off). Immediately after adaptation, thresholds were measured for detection of a single cycle of either a rapid-on or a rapid-off waveform. Varying the contrast of the surround affected observers' sensitivity to the polarity of the sawtooth stimulus to the extent that the pattern of sensitivity with the equiluminant surround was the opposite of that with the dark surround. To examine temporal factors, we measured thresholds for slow (500-ms ramps) and fast (8.3-ms pulses) test stimuli. The adaptation effect was preserved with the ramp stimuli but not with the pulse stimuli. Blurring the edge between the test and surround fields in the equiluminant surround condition raised thresholds for all sawtooth test stimuli, suggesting that spatiotemporal channels sensitive to high spatial frequencies and low temporal frequencies facilitate detection in that condition. These findings suggest that adaptation to sawtooth modulation can differentially effect the sensitivity of ON and OFF pathways, but the relative desensitization of each pathway depends on an interaction with the adaptation state of spatiotemporal channels that are involved in detection.