We rely on our visual system to cope with the vast barrage of incoming light patterns and to extract features from the scene that are relevant to our well-being. The necessary reduction of visual information already begins in the eye. In this review, we summarize recent progress in understanding the computations performed in the vertebrate retina and how they are implemented by the neural circuitry. A new picture emerges from these findings that helps resolve a vexing paradox between the retina's structure and function. Whereas the conventional wisdom treats the eye as a simple prefilter for visual images, it now appears that the retina solves a diverse set of specific tasks and provides the results explicitly to downstream brain areas.
Copyright 2010 Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.