The inhibition that is exerted mutually among the receptor units (ommatidia) in the lateral eye of Limulus has been analyzed by recording oscillographically the discharge of nerve impulses in single optic nerve fibers. The discharges from two ommatidia were recorded simultaneously by connecting the bundles containing their optic nerve fibers to separate amplifiers and recording systems. Ommatidia were chosen that were separated by no more than a few millimeters in the eye; they were illuminated independently by separate optical systems.
The frequency of the maintained discharge of impulses from each of two ommatidia illuminated steadily is lower when both are illuminated together than when each is illuminated by itself. When only two ommatidia are illuminated, the magnitude of the inhibition of each one depends only on the degree of activity of the other; the activity of each, in turn, is the resultant of the excitation from its respective light stimulus and the inhibition exerted on it by the other.
When additional receptors are illuminated in the vicinity of an interacting pair too far from one ommatidium to affect it directly, but near enough to the second to inhibit it, the frequency of discharge of the first increases as it is partially released from the inhibition exerted on it by the second (disinhibition).
Disinhibition simulates facilitation; it is an example of indirect effects of interaction taking place over greater distances in the eye than are covered by direct inhibitory interconnections.
When only two interacting ommatidia are illuminated, the inhibition exerted on each (decrease of its frequency of discharge) is a linear function of the degree of activity (frequency of discharge) of the other. Below a certain frequency (often different for different receptors) no inhibition is exerted by a receptor. Above this threshold, the rate of increase of inhibition of one receptor with increasing frequency of discharge of the other is constant, and may be at least as high as 0.2 impulse inhibited in one receptor per impulse discharged by the other. For a given pair of interacting receptors, the inhibitory coefficients are not always the same in the two directions of action. The responses to steady illumination of two receptor units that inhibit each other mutually are described quantitatively by two simultaneous linear equations that express concisely all the features discussed above. These equations may be extended and their number supplemented to describe the responses of more than two interacting elements.