Why different regions of the retina have different spectral sensitivities: a review of mechanisms and functional significance of intraretinal variability in spectral sensitivity in vertebrates

Vis Neurosci. 2011 Jul;28(4):281-93. doi: 10.1017/S0952523811000113.


Vision is used in nearly all aspects of animal behavior, from prey and predator detection to mate selection and parental care. However, the light environment typically is not uniform in every direction, and visual tasks may be specific to particular parts of an animal's field of view. These spatial differences may explain the presence of several adaptations in the eyes of vertebrates that alter spectral sensitivity of the eye in different directions. Mechanisms that alter spectral sensitivity across the retina include (but are not limited to) variations in: corneal filters, oil droplets, macula lutea, tapeta, chromophore ratios, photoreceptor classes, and opsin expression. The resultant variations in spectral sensitivity across the retina are referred to as intraretinal variability in spectral sensitivity (IVSS). At first considered an obscure and rare phenomenon, it is becoming clear that IVSS is widespread among all vertebrates, and examples have been found from every major group. This review will describe the mechanisms mediating differences in spectral sensitivity, which are in general well understood, as well as explore the functional significance of intraretinal variability, which for the most part is unclear at best.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Cornea / physiology
  • Humans
  • Light
  • Ocular Physiological Phenomena
  • Opsins / biosynthesis
  • Opsins / physiology
  • Photoreceptor Cells, Vertebrate / classification
  • Photoreceptor Cells, Vertebrate / physiology
  • Pigment Epithelium of Eye / physiology
  • Retina / cytology
  • Retina / physiology*
  • Species Specificity
  • Vertebrates
  • Vision, Ocular / physiology


  • Opsins