The contrast sensitivity of retinal ganglion cells of the cat

J Physiol. 1966 Dec;187(3):517-52. doi: 10.1113/jphysiol.1966.sp008107.


1. Spatial summation within cat retinal receptive fields was studied by recording from optic-tract fibres the responses of ganglion cells to grating patterns whose luminance perpendicular to the bars varied sinusoidally about the mean level. 2. Summation over the receptive fields of some cells (X-cells) was found to be approximately linear, while for other cells (Y-cells) summation was very non-linear. 3. The mean discharge frequency of Y-cells (unlike that of X-cells) was greatly increased when grating patterns drifted across their receptive fields. 4. In twenty-one X-cells the relation between the contrast and spatial frequency of drifting sinusoidal gratings which evoked the same small response was measured. In every case it was found that the reciprocal of this relation, the contrast sensitivity function, could be satisfactorily described by the difference of two Gaussian functions. 5. This finding supports the hypothesis that the sensitivities of the antagonistic centre and surround summating regions of ganglion cell receptive fields fall off as Gaussian functions of the distance from the field centre. 6. The way in which the sensitivity of an X-cell for a contrast-edge pattern varied with the distance of the edge from the receptive field centre was determined and found to be consistent with the cell's measured contrast sensitivity function. 7. Reducing the retinal illumination produced changes in the contrast sensitivity function of an X-cell which suggested that the diameters of the summating regions of the receptive field increased while the surround region became relatively ineffective.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Cats
  • Contrast Sensitivity / physiology*
  • Models, Neurological
  • Optic Nerve / cytology
  • Optic Nerve / physiology
  • Photic Stimulation
  • Retinal Ganglion Cells / physiology*
  • Visual Fields / physiology