Temporal structure in spiking patterns of ganglion cells defines perceptual thresholds in rodents with subretinal prosthesis

Sci Rep. 2018 Feb 16;8(1):3145. doi: 10.1038/s41598-018-21447-1.


Subretinal prostheses are designed to restore sight in patients blinded by retinal degeneration using electrical stimulation of the inner retinal neurons. To relate retinal output to perception, we studied behavioral thresholds in blind rats with photovoltaic subretinal prostheses stimulated by full-field pulsed illumination at 20 Hz, and measured retinal ganglion cell (RGC) responses to similar stimuli ex-vivo. Behaviorally, rats exhibited startling response to changes in brightness, with an average contrast threshold of 12%, which could not be explained by changes in the average RGC spiking rate. However, RGCs exhibited millisecond-scale variations in spike timing, even when the average rate did not change significantly. At 12% temporal contrast, changes in firing patterns of prosthetic response were as significant as with 2.3% contrast steps in visible light stimulation of healthy retinas. This suggests that millisecond-scale changes in spiking patterns define perceptual thresholds of prosthetic vision. Response to the last pulse in the stimulation burst lasted longer than the steady-state response during the burst. This may be interpreted as an excitatory OFF response to prosthetic stimulation, and can explain behavioral response to decrease in illumination. Contrast enhancement of images prior to delivery to subretinal prosthesis can partially compensate for reduced contrast sensitivity of prosthetic vision.

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

  • Animals
  • Contrast Sensitivity
  • Electric Stimulation
  • Rats
  • Retinal Ganglion Cells / cytology*
  • Sensory Thresholds
  • Visual Perception*