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Spatial resolution, contrast sensitivity, and sensitivity to defocus of chicken retinal ganglion cells in vitro

  • DOI:
  • Published online: 04 December 2009

The chicken has been extensively studied as an animal model for myopia because its eye growth is tightly controlled by visual experience. It has been found that the retina controls the axial eye growth rates depending on the amount and the sign of defocus imposed in the projected image. Glucagonergic amacrine cells were discovered that appear to encode for the sign of imposed defocus. It is not clear whether the downstream neurons, the retinal ganglion cells, still have access to this information—and whether it ultimately reaches the brain. We have analyzed the spike rates of chicken retinal ganglion cells in vitro using a microelectrode array. For this purpose, we initially defined spatial resolution and contrast sensitivity in vitro. Two classes of chicken retinal ganglions were found, depending on the linearity of their responses with increasing contrast. Responses generally declined with increasing defocus of the visual stimulus. These responses were well predicted by the modulation transfer function for a diffraction-limited defocused optical system, the first Bessel function. Thus, the studied retinal ganglion cells did not distinguish between a loss of contrast at a given spatial frequency due to reduced contrast of the stimulus pattern or because the pattern was presented out of focus. Furthermore, there was no indication that the retinal ganglion cells responded differently to defocus of either sign, at least for the cells that were recorded in this study.

Corresponding author
*Address correspondence and reprint requests to: Frank Schaeffel, Section of Neurobiology of the Eye, Institute for Ophthalmic Research, Calwerstrasse 7/1, 72076 Tuebingen, Germany. E-mail:
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