The impulse discharge of single ganglion cells was recorded extracellularly in superfused eyecup preparations of the tiger salamander (Ambystoma tigrinum). Contrast flashes (500 ms) were applied at the center of the receptive field while the retina was light adapted to a background field of 20 cd/m2. The incidence of cell types in a sample of 387 cells was: ON cells (4%), OFF cells (28%), and ON/OFF cells (68%). Quantitative contrast/response measurements were obtained for 83 cells. On the basis of C50, the contrast necessary to evoke a half-maximal response, ON/OFF cells fell into 3 groups: (1) Positive Dominant (26%), (2) Balanced (23%), and (3) Negative Dominant (51%). Positive Dominant cells tended to be relatively contrast insensitive. On the other hand, many Negative Dominant cells showed remarkably low C50 values and very steep contrast/response curves. Contrast gain to negative contrast averaged 8.5 impulses/s/% contrast, some four times greater than that evoked by positive contrast. In most ON/OFF cells, the latency of the first spike evoked by a negative contrast step was much shorter (40–100 ms) than that evoked by a positive contrast step of equal contrast. OFF cells typically showed higher C50 values, larger dynamic ranges, and longer latencies than those of Negative Dominant ON/OFF cells. Thus, different pathways or mechanism apparently mediate the off responses of OFF and ON/OFF cells. In sum, the light-adapted retina of the tiger salamander is strongly biased in favor of negative contrast, as shown by the remarkably high contrast sensitivity and faster response of Negative Dominant cells, the remarkably low incidence of ON cells, and the insensitivity of Positive Dominant cells. Some possible underlying influences of bipolar and amacrine cells are discussed.
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