Retinal processing near absolute threshold: from behavior to mechanism

Annu Rev Physiol. 2005;67:491-514. doi: 10.1146/annurev.physiol.67.031103.151256.


Vision at absolute threshold is based on signals produced in a tiny fraction of the rod photoreceptors. This requires that the rods signal the absorption of single photons, and that the resulting signals are transmitted across the retina and encoded in the activity sent from the retina to the brain. Behavioral and ganglion cell sensitivity has often been interpreted to indicate that these biophysical events occur noiselessly, i.e., that vision reaches limits to sensitivity imposed by the division of light into discrete photons and occasional photon-like noise events generated in the rod photoreceptors. We argue that this interpretation is not unique and provide a more conservative view of the constraints behavior and ganglion cell experiments impose on phototransduction and retinal processing. We summarize what is known about how these constraints are met and identify some of the outstanding open issues.

Publication types

  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Humans
  • Retina / physiology*
  • Retinal Ganglion Cells / physiology
  • Sensory Thresholds / physiology*
  • Vision, Ocular / physiology*