Objective: Epiretinal prostheses are designed to restore functional vision to the blind by electrically stimulating surviving retinal neurons. These devices have classically employed symmetric biphasic current pulses in order to maintain a balance of charge. Prior electrophysiological and psychophysical studies in peripheral nerve show that adding an interphase gap (IPG) between the two phases makes stimulation more efficient than pulses with no gap. This led us to investigate the effect of IPG duration on retinal stimulation thresholds.
Approach: We measured retinal ganglion cell (RGC) electrical thresholds in salamander retina and phosphene perceptual thresholds in epiretinal prosthesis patients during stimulation with different IPG lengths. We also built Hodgkin-Huxley-type models of RGCs to further study how IPG affects thresholds.
Main results: In general, there was a negative exponential correlation between threshold and IPG duration. Durations greater than or equal to ~0.5 ms reduced salamander RGC thresholds by 20-25%. Psychophysical testing in five retinal prosthesis patients indicated that stimulating with IPGs can decrease perceptual thresholds by 10-15%. Results from computational models of RGCs corroborated the observed behavior.
Significance: Incorporating interphase gaps can reduce the power consumption of epiretinal prostheses and increase the available dynamic range of phosphene size and brightness.