The relationship between the slow potential and spikes of second-order ocellar neurons of the cockroach, Periplaneta americana, was studied. The stimulus was a sinusoidally modulated light with various mean illuminances. A solitary spike was generated at the depolarizing phase of the modulation response. Analysis of the relationship between the amplitude/frequency of voltage modulation and the rate of spike generation showed that (a) the spike initiation process was bandpass at approximately 0.5-5 Hz, (b) the process contained a dynamic linearity and a static nonlinearity, and (c) the spike threshold at optimal frequencies (0.5-5 Hz) remained unchanged over a mean illuminance range of 3.6 log units, whereas (d) the spike threshold at frequencies of less than 0.5 Hz was lower at a dimmer mean illuminance. The voltage noise in the response was larger and the mean membrane potential level was more positive at a dimmer mean illuminance. Steady or noise current injection during sinusoidal light stimulation showed that (a) the decrease in the spike threshold at a dimmer mean illuminance was due to the increase in the noise variance: the noise had facilitatory effects on the spike initiation; and (b) the change in the mean potential level had little effect on the spike threshold. We conclude that fundamental signal modifications occur during the spike initiation in the cockroach ocellar neuron, a finding that differs from the spike initiation process in other visual systems, including Limulus eye and vertebrate retina, in which it is presumed that little signal modification occurs at the analog-to-digital conversion process.

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