Oscillatory potentials in the retina: what do they reveal

Prog Retin Eye Res. 1998 Oct;17(4):485-521. doi: 10.1016/s1350-9462(98)00006-8.


This chapter is an overview of current knowledge on the oscillatory potentials (OPs) of the retina. The first section describes the characteristics of the OPs. The basic, adaptational, pharmacological and developmental characteristics of the OPs are different from the a- and b-waves, the major components of the electroretinogram (ERG). The OPs are most easily recorded in mesopic adaptational conditions and reflect rapid changes of adaptation. They represent photopic and scotopic processes, probably an interaction between cone and rod activity in the retina. The OPs are sensitive to disruption of inhibitory (dopamine, GABA-, and glycine-mediated) neuronal pathways and are not selectively affected by excitatory amino acids. The earlier OPs are associated with the on-components and the late OPs with the off-components in response to a brief stimulus of light. The postnatal appearance of the first oscillatory activity is preceded by the a- and b-waves. The earlier OPs appear postnatally prior to, and mature differently from, the later ones. The second section deals with present views on the origin of the OPs. These views are developed from experimental studies with the vertebrate retina including the primate retina and clinical studies. Findings favor the conclusion that the OPs reflect neuronal synaptic activity in inhibitory feedback pathways initiated by the amacrines in the inner retina. The bipolar (or the interplexiform) cells are the probable generators of the OPs. Dopaminergic neurons, probably amacrines (or interplexiform cells), are involved in the generation of the OPs. The earlier OPs are generated in neurons related to the on-pathway of the retina and the later ones to the off-channel system. Peptidergic neurons may be indirectly involved as modulators. The individual OPs seem to represent the activation of several retinal generators. The earlier OPs are more dependent on an intact rod function and the later ones on an intact cone system. Thus, the OPs are good indicators of neuronal adaptive mechanisms in the retina and are probably the only post-synaptic neuronal components that can be recorded in the ERG except when structured stimuli are used. The last section describes the usefulness of the oscillatory response as an instrument to study the postnatal development of neuronal adaptation of the retina. In this section clinical examples of of the sensitivity of the OPs for revealing early disturbance in neuronal function in different retinal diseases such as pediatric, vascular and degenerative retinopathies are also given.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Dark Adaptation / physiology
  • Electroretinography*
  • Excitatory Amino Acid Agents / pharmacology
  • Humans
  • Neurons / physiology
  • Oscillometry
  • Photic Stimulation
  • Photoreceptor Cells, Vertebrate / physiology
  • Retina / drug effects
  • Retina / physiology*


  • Excitatory Amino Acid Agents