Dynamics of Contrast Decrement and Increment Responses in Human Visual Cortex

Transl Vis Sci Technol. 2020 Sep 4;9(10):6. doi: 10.1167/tvst.9.10.6. eCollection 2020 Sep.


Purpose: The goal of the present experiments was to determine whether electrophysiologic response properties of the ON and OFF visual pathways observed in animal experimental models can be observed in humans.

Methods: Steady-state visual evoked potentials (SSVEPs) were recorded in response to equivalent magnitude contrast increments and decrements presented within a probe-on-pedestal Westheimer sensitization paradigm. The probes were modulated with sawtooth temporal waveforms at a temporal frequency of 3 or 2.73 Hz. SSVEP response waveforms and response spectra for incremental and decremental stimuli were analyzed as a function of stimulus size and visual field location in 67 healthy adult participants.

Results: SSVEPs recorded at the scalp differ between contrast decrements and increments of equal Weber contrast: SSVEP responses were larger in amplitude and shorter in latency for contrast decrements than for contrast increments. Both increment and decrement responses were larger for displays that were scaled for cortical magnification.

Conclusions: In a fashion that parallels results from the early visual system of cats and monkeys, two key properties of ON versus OFF pathways found in single-unit recordings are recapitulated at the population level of activity that can be observed with scalp electrodes, allowing differential assessment of ON and OFF pathway activity in human.

Translational relevance: As data from preclinical models of visual pathway dysfunction point to differential damage to subtypes of retinal ganglion cells, this approach may be useful in future work on disease detection and treatment monitoring.

Keywords: OFF pathway; ON pathway; latency; luminance contrast; visual evoked potentials.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Animals
  • Cats
  • Evoked Potentials, Visual
  • Humans
  • Retinal Ganglion Cells
  • Visual Cortex*
  • Visual Fields
  • Visual Pathways