Light adaptation is the adjustment of retinal response properties to variations in ambient illumination. It enables the encoding of visual information over a millionfold intensity range, from moonlight to broad daylight, despite the relatively small dynamic range of response of visual neurones. We have studied the effects of light adaptation on the dynamics and sensitivity of visual responses of neurones in the turtle retina, by measuring the responses of horizontal cells in the retina to light which was modulated with a sinusoidal time course around various mean levels. As a quantitative measure of the transduction from light to neural signals, we calculated the gain of response at each frequency. Gain is defined as the amplitude of the modulated response component divided by the amplitude of light modulation. We report here that the gain (mV photon-1) at low temporal frequencies decreased as the mean light level increased. Over a 2 log-unit range of mean light levels, low-frequency gain was inversely proportional to the mean light level, as in Weber's law. However, at high temporal frequencies, the gain was almost independent of mean light level. Our results are reminiscent of Kelly's results on human temporal-frequency sensitivity in various states of light adaptation. We found that a family of horizontal-cell temporal frequency responses, measured at various mean light levels, could be accounted for by a negative feedback model in which the feedback strength is proportional to mean light level.
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