The effect of early astigmatism on the visual resolution of gratings

J Physiol. 1974 Dec;243(3):739-56. doi: 10.1113/jphysiol.1974.sp010774.


1. Orientational differences in visual resolution were measured at a number of different luminance levels on two subjects with high astigmatism that had remained optically uncorrected until the age of 10. Because of their astigmatism both of these subjects see vertical contours more clearly than horizontal contours with the unaided eye.2. The measurements were made using sinusoidal gratings generated on the face of an oscilloscope with the refractive error carefully corrected with lenses and with the gratings viewed through 3 mm artificial pupils.3. Visual resolution was found to be much better for vertical than for horizontal gratings for both these subjects under these conditions. The difference between the contrast sensitivities for vertical and horizontal gratings was even evident with gratings having spatial frequencies as low as 1 c/deg, but became progressively more pronounced at higher spatial frequencies. In one of the subjects the visual acuity (the cut-off spatial frequency) for horizontal gratings was more than 3/4 of an octave lower than that for vertical gratings.4. This is very different from the results obtained from normal subjects who typically show only a slight reduction in contrast sensitivity for oblique gratings but resolve vertical and horizontal gratings equally well.5. The quantitative differences between the contrast sensitivities for vertical and horizontal gratings of both high and low spatial frequencies cannot be accounted for by either errors of focus in one meridian or by the presence of meridional aniseikonia.6. In order to completely eliminate any optical explanations for these findings measurements of contrast sensitivity were made using sinusoidal interference fringes formed directly on the retina, thereby bypassing the eye's optics. Since the orientational differences in resolution persisted with this method it must be concluded that they are of neural origin.7. By analogy with the effects on cortical physiology that follow early selective visual deprivation in cats and monkeys, it is argued that these orientational differences in resolution are a consequence of changes induced in the neural organization of the astigmat's visual system by the distorted visual input provided by the uncorrected astigmatism early in life. It is furthermore argued that the smaller orientational differences in resolution observed in normal eyes might similarly be induced by certain asymmetries in the early visual input.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Astigmatism / physiopathology*
  • Eye / physiopathology
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Photic Stimulation
  • Vision, Ocular*
  • Visual Acuity