1. The impulse/quantum (I/Q) ratio was measured as a function of background illumination for rod‐dominated, pure central, linear square‐wave responses of retinal ganglion cells in the cat. 2. The I/Q ratio was constant at low backgrounds (dark adapted state) and inversely proportional to the 0·9 power of the background at high backgrounds (the light adapted state). There was an abrupt transition from the dark‐adapted state to the light‐adapted state. 3. It was possible to define the adaptation level at a particular background as the ratio (I/Q ratio at that background)/(dark adapted I/Q ratio). 4. The time course of the square‐wave response was correlated with the adaptation level. The response was sustained in the dark‐adapted state, partially transient at the transition level, and progressively more transient the lower the impulse/quantum ratio of the ganglion cell became. This was true both for on‐centre and off‐centre cells. 5. The frequency response of the central response mechanism at different adaptation levels was measured. It was a low‐pass characteristic in the dark‐adapted state and became progressively more of a bandpass characteristic as the cell became more light‐adapted. 6. The rapidity of onset of adaptation was measured with a time‐varying adapting light. The impulse/quantum ratio is reset within 100 msec of the onset of the conditioning light, and is kept at the new value throughout the time the conditioning light is on. 7. These results can be explained by a nonlinear feedback model. In the model, it is postulated that the exponential function of the horizontal cell potential controls transmission from rods to bipolars. This model has an abrupt transition from dark‐ to light‐adapted states, and its response dynamics are correlated with adaptation level.
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