The Appearance of Phosphenes Elicited Using a Suprachoroidal Retinal Prosthesis

Invest Ophthalmol Vis Sci. 2016 Sep 1;57(11):4948-4961. doi: 10.1167/iovs.15-18991.


Purpose: Phosphenes are the fundamental building blocks for presenting meaningful visual information to the visually impaired using a bionic eye device. The aim of this study was to characterize the size, shape, and location of phosphenes elicited using a suprachoroidal retinal prosthesis.

Methods: Three patients with profound vision loss due to retinitis pigmentosa were implanted with a suprachoroidal electrode array, which was used to deliver charge-balanced biphasic constant-current pulses at various rates, amplitudes, and durations to produce phosphenes. Tasks assessing phosphene appearance, location, overlap, and the patients' ability to recognize phosphenes were performed using a custom psychophysics setup.

Results: Phosphenes were reliably elicited in all three patients, with marked differences in the reported appearances between patients and between electrodes. Phosphene shapes ranged from simple blobs to complex forms with multiple components in both space and time. Phosphene locations within the visual field generally corresponded to the retinotopic position of the stimulating electrodes. Overlap between phosphenes elicited from adjacent electrodes was observed with one patient, which reduced with increasing electrode separation. In a randomized recognition task, two patients correctly identified the electrode being stimulated for 57.2% and 23% of trials, respectively.

Conclusions: Phosphenes of varying complexity were successfully elicited in all three patients, indicating that the suprachoroidal space is an efficacious site for electrically stimulating the retina. The recognition scores obtained with two patients suggest that a suprachoroidal implant can elicit phosphenes containing unique information. This information may be useful when combining phosphenes into more complex and meaningful images that provide functional vision.