Visual threshold is set by linear and nonlinear mechanisms in the retina that mitigate noise

How neural circuits in the retina improve the signal-to-noise ratio of the single-photon response

Authors

  • Johan Pahlberg,

    Corresponding author
    1. Zilkha Neurogenetic Institute, University of Southern California, Los Angeles, CA, USA
    • Zilkha Neurogenetic Institute, University of Southern California, Los Angeles, CA, USA
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  • Alapakkam P. Sampath

    1. Zilkha Neurogenetic Institute, University of Southern California, Los Angeles, CA, USA
    2. Department of Physiology and Biophysics, Keck School of Medicine, University of Southern California, Los Angeles, CA, USA
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Abstract

In sensory biology, a major outstanding question is how sensory receptor cells minimize noise while maximizing signal to set the detection threshold. This optimization could be problematic because the origin of both the signals and the limiting noise in most sensory systems is believed to lie in stimulus transduction. Signal processing in receptor cells can improve the signal-to-noise ratio. However, neural circuits can further optimize the detection threshold by pooling signals from sensory receptor cells and processing them using a combination of linear and nonlinear filtering mechanisms. In the visual system, noise limiting light detection has been assumed to arise from stimulus transduction in rod photoreceptors. In this context, the evolutionary optimization of the signal-to-noise ratio in the retina has proven critical in allowing visual sensitivity to approach the limits set by the quantal nature of light. Here, we discuss how noise in the mammalian retina is mitigated to allow for highly sensitive night vision.

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