Sluggish and brisk ganglion cells detect contrast with similar sensitivity

J Neurophysiol. 2005 May;93(5):2388-95. doi: 10.1152/jn.01088.2004. Epub 2004 Dec 15.


Roughly half of all ganglion cells in mammalian retina belong to the broad class, termed "sluggish." Many of these cells have small receptive fields and project via lateral geniculate nuclei to visual cortex. However, their possible contributions to perception have been largely ignored because sluggish cells seem to respond weakly compared with the more easily studied "brisk" cells. By selecting small somas under infrared DIC optics and recording with a loose seal, we could routinely isolate sluggish cells. When a spot was matched spatially and temporally to the receptive field center, most sluggish cells could detect the same low contrasts as brisk cells. Detection thresholds for the two groups determined by an "ideal observer" were similar: threshold contrast for sluggish cells was 4.7 +/- 0.5% (mean +/- SE), and for brisk cells was 3.4 +/- 0.3% (Mann-Whitney test: P > 0.05). Signal-to-noise ratios for the two classes were also similar at low contrast. However, sluggish cells saturated at somewhat lower contrasts (contrast for half-maximum response was 14 +/- 1 vs. 19 +/- 2% for brisk cells) and were less sensitive to higher temporal frequencies (when the stimulus frequency was increased from 2 to 4 Hz, the response rate fell by 1.6-fold). Thus the sluggish cells covered a narrower dynamic range and a narrower temporal bandwidth, consistent with their reported lower information rates. Because information per spike is greater at lower firing rates, sluggish cells may represent "cheaper" channels that convey less urgent visual information at a lower energy cost.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study
  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Action Potentials / physiology
  • Animals
  • Cell Count / methods
  • Contrast Sensitivity / physiology*
  • Guinea Pigs
  • In Vitro Techniques
  • Photic Stimulation / methods
  • Retina / cytology*
  • Retina / physiology
  • Retinal Ganglion Cells / classification*
  • Retinal Ganglion Cells / physiology*
  • Sensory Thresholds / physiology
  • Time Factors
  • Visual Pathways / physiology