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Retina adapts to seek the unexpected, ignore the commonplace

n to the average image structure of natural environments.

"Yet animals encounter many environments with visual statistics different from this hypothetical 'average' scene," Meister says. "We have found that when this happens, the retina adjusts its processing dynamically: The spatio-temporal receptive fields of retinal ganglion cells change after a few seconds in a new environment. These changes are adaptive, improving predictive coding by enhancing the ability of these receptive fields to pick out unusual features."

While manipulating the visual scenes faced by salamanders and rabbits, Meister and colleagues recorded neural signals from the animals' retinal ganglion cells, testing whether adaptation to a different environment altered the encoding of retinal signals. From the neural responses to novel stimuli, the researchers computed the sensitivity of individual ganglion cells to various scenes.

For most cells, sensitivity to a novel scene was greater than sensitivity to control scenes to which the animals had already been exposed, a gap that grew gradually in the seconds after introduction to a new environment. Because this adaptation occurred in both salamanders and rabbits, Meister concluded that it typifies retinal function in both amphibians and mammals, animals that differ greatly in ecology and physiology but share the challenge of adjusting to a variable visual environment.


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Source:Harvard University


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