Pathway-Specific Asymmetries between ON and OFF Visual Signals

J Neurosci. 2018 Nov 7;38(45):9728-9740. doi: 10.1523/JNEUROSCI.2008-18.2018. Epub 2018 Sep 24.


Visual processing is largely organized into ON and OFF pathways that signal stimulus increments and decrements, respectively. These pathways exhibit natural pairings based on morphological and physiological similarities, such as ON and OFF α-ganglion cells in the mammalian retina. Several studies have noted asymmetries in the properties of ON and OFF pathways. For example, the spatial receptive fields (RFs) of OFF α-cells are systematically smaller than ON α-cells. Analysis of natural scenes suggests that these asymmetries are optimal for visual encoding. To test the generality of ON/OFF asymmetries, we measured the spatiotemporal RF properties of multiple RGC types in rat retina. Through a quantitative and serial classification, we identified three functional pairs of ON and OFF RGCs. We analyzed the structure of their RFs and compared spatial integration, temporal integration, and gain across ON and OFF pairs. Similar to previous results from the cat and primate, RGC types with larger spatial RFs exhibited briefer temporal integration and higher gain. However, each pair of ON and OFF RGC types exhibited distinct asymmetric relationships between RF properties, some of which were opposite to the findings of previous reports. These results reveal the functional organization of six RGC types in the rodent retina and indicate that ON/OFF asymmetries are pathway specific.SIGNIFICANCE STATEMENT Circuits that process sensory input frequently process increments separately from decrements, so-called ON and OFF responses. Theoretical studies indicate that this separation, and associated asymmetries in ON and OFF pathways, may be beneficial for encoding natural stimuli. However, the generality of ON and OFF pathway asymmetries has not been tested. Here we compare the functional properties of three distinct pairs of ON and OFF pathways in the rodent retina and show that their asymmetries are pathway specific. These results provide a new view on the partitioning of vision across diverse ON and OFF signaling pathways.

Keywords: cell types; classification; retina.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Action Potentials / physiology*
  • Animals
  • Photic Stimulation / methods*
  • Random Allocation
  • Rats
  • Rats, Long-Evans
  • Retinal Ganglion Cells / physiology*
  • Visual Pathways / cytology
  • Visual Pathways / physiology*