Contrast sensitivity with a subretinal prosthesis and implications for efficient delivery of visual information

Georges Goetz, Richard Smith, Xin Lei, Ludwig Galambos, Theodore Kamins, Keith Mathieson, Alexander Sher, Daniel Palanker

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15 Citations (Scopus)
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PURPOSE. To evaluate the contrast sensitivity of a degenerate retina stimulated by a photovoltaic subretinal prosthesis, and assess the impact of low contrast sensitivity on transmission of visual information. METHODS. We measure ex vivo the full-field contrast sensitivity of healthy rat retina stimulated with white light, and the contrast sensitivity of degenerate rat retina stimulated with a subretinal prosthesis at frequencies exceeding flicker fusion (>20 Hz). Effects of eye movements on retinal ganglion cell (RGC) activity are simulated using a linear–nonlinear model of the retina. RESULTS. Retinal ganglion cells adapt to high frequency stimulation of constant intensity, and respond transiently to changes in illumination of the implant, exhibiting responses to ON-sets, OFF-sets, and both ON- and OFF-sets of light. The percentage of cells with an OFF response decreases with progression of the degeneration, indicating that OFF responses are likely mediated by photoreceptors. Prosthetic vision exhibits reduced contrast sensitivity and dynamic range, with 65% contrast changes required to elicit responses, as compared to the 3% (OFF) to 7% (ON) changes with visible light. The maximum number of action potentials elicited with prosthetic stimulation is at most half of its natural counterpart for the ON pathway. Our model predicts that for most visual scenes, contrast sensitivity of prosthetic vision is insufficient for triggering RGC activity by fixational eye movements. CONCLUSIONS. Contrast sensitivity of prosthetic vision is 10 times lower than normal, and dynamic range is two times below natural. Low contrast sensitivity and lack of OFF responses hamper delivery of visual information via a subretinal prosthesis.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)7186-7194
Number of pages9
JournalInvestigative Ophthalmology and Visual Science
Issue number12
Publication statusPublished - 1 Nov 2015


  • electrophysiology
  • retinal degeneration
  • retinal prosthesis


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