Visual adaptation: physiology, mechanisms, and functional benefits

J Neurophysiol. 2007 May;97(5):3155-64. doi: 10.1152/jn.00086.2007. Epub 2007 Mar 7.


Recent sensory experience affects both perception and the response properties of visual neurons. Here I review a rapid form of experience-dependent plasticity that follows adaptation, the presentation of a particular stimulus or ensemble of stimuli for periods ranging from tens of milliseconds to minutes. Adaptation has a rich history in psychophysics, where it is often used as a tool for dissecting the perceptual mechanisms of vision. Although we know comparatively little about the neurophysiological effects of adaptation, work in the last decade has revealed a rich repertoire of effects. This review focuses on this recent physiological work, the cellular and biophysical mechanisms that may underlie the observed effects, and the functional benefit that they may afford. I conclude with a brief discussion of some important open questions in the field.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Adaptation, Physiological*
  • Animals
  • Biophysical Phenomena
  • Biophysics
  • Humans
  • Neurons / physiology
  • Photic Stimulation
  • Time Factors
  • Visual Cortex / cytology
  • Visual Cortex / physiology*
  • Visual Perception / physiology*