Design of a neuronal array

J Neurosci. 2008 Mar 19;28(12):3178-89. doi: 10.1523/JNEUROSCI.5259-07.2008.


Retinal ganglion cells of a given type overlap their dendritic fields such that every point in space is covered by three to four cells. We investigated what function is served by such extensive overlap. Recording from pairs of ON or OFF brisk-transient ganglion cells at photopic intensities, we confirmed that this overlap causes the Gaussian receptive field centers to be spaced at approximately 2 SDs (sigma). This, together with response nonlinearities and variability, was just sufficient to provide an ideal observer with uniform contrast sensitivity across the retina for both threshold and suprathreshold stimuli. We hypothesized that overlap might maximize the information represented from natural images, thereby optimizing retinal performance for many tasks. Indeed, tested with natural images (which contain statistical correlations), a model ganglion cell array maximized information represented in its population responses with approximately 2sigma spacing, i.e., the overlap observed in the retina. Yet, tested with white noise (which lacks statistical correlations), an array maximized its information by minimizing overlap. In both cases, optimal overlap balanced greater signal-to-noise ratio (from larger receptive fields) against greater redundancy (because of larger receptive field overlap). Thus, dendritic overlap improves vision by taking optimal advantage of the statistical correlations of natural scenes.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Action Potentials / physiology
  • Animals
  • Computer Simulation
  • Contrast Sensitivity / physiology
  • Dendrites / physiology
  • Female
  • Guinea Pigs
  • In Vitro Techniques
  • Male
  • Models, Neurological*
  • Photic Stimulation
  • Retina / cytology
  • Retinal Ganglion Cells / cytology
  • Retinal Ganglion Cells / physiology*
  • Sensory Thresholds / physiology
  • Visual Fields / physiology
  • Visual Pathways / physiology*