Prosthetic interfaces with the visual system: biological issues

J Neural Eng. 2007 Jun;4(2):R14-31. doi: 10.1088/1741-2560/4/2/R02. Epub 2007 Mar 14.


The design of effective visual prostheses for the blind represents a challenge for biomedical engineers and neuroscientists. Significant progress has been made in the miniaturization and processing power of prosthesis electronics; however development lags in the design and construction of effective machine-brain interfaces with visual system neurons. This review summarizes what has been learned about stimulating neurons in the human and primate retina, lateral geniculate nucleus and visual cortex. Each level of the visual system presents unique challenges for neural interface design. Blind patients with the retinal degenerative disease retinitis pigmentosa (RP) are a common population in clinical trials of visual prostheses. The visual performance abilities of normals and RP patients are compared. To generate pattern vision in blind patients, the visual prosthetic interface must effectively stimulate the retinotopically organized neurons in the central visual field to elicit patterned visual percepts. The development of more biologically compatible methods of stimulating visual system neurons is critical to the development of finer spatial percepts. Prosthesis electrode arrays need to adapt to different optimal stimulus locations, stimulus patterns, and patient disease states.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Artificial Intelligence*
  • Blindness / rehabilitation*
  • Electrodes, Implanted*
  • Humans
  • Prostheses and Implants*
  • Prosthesis Design
  • Retina / physiopathology*
  • Therapy, Computer-Assisted / instrumentation*
  • Therapy, Computer-Assisted / methods
  • User-Computer Interface*