The all-rod retina of the skate (Raja erinacea or R. oscellata) is known to have the remarkable capability of responding to incremental flashes superimposed on background intensities that initially block all light-evoked responses and are well above the level at which rods saturate in mixed rod/cone retinas. To examine further the unusual properties of the skate visual system, we have analyzed responses of their horizontal cells to intensity-modulated step, sinusoidal, and white-noise stimuli. We found that during exposures to mean intensities bright enough to block responses to incremental stimuli, decremental stimuli were also initially blocked. Thereafter, the horizontal cells underwent a slow recovery phase during which there was marked nonlinearity in their response properties. The cell first (within 2-3 min) responded to decrements in intensity and later (after greater than 10 min) became responsive to incremental stimuli. After adaptation to a steady state, however, the responses to intensity modulation were nearly linear over a broad range of modulation depths even at the brightest mean levels of illumination. Indeed, examination of the steady-state responses over a 5-log-unit range of mean intensities revealed that the amplitude of the white noise-evoked responses depended solely on contrast, and was independent of the retinal irradiance as the latter was increased from 0.02 to 20 muW/cm2; i.e., contrast sensitivity remained unchanged over this 1,000-fold increase in mean irradiance. A decrement from the mean as brief as 2 s, however, disturbed the steady state. Another unexpected finding in this all-rod retina concerns surround-enhancement, a phenomenon observed previously for cone-mediated responses of horizontal cells in the retinas of turtle and catfish. While exposure to annular illumination induced response compression and a pronounced sensitivity loss in response to incremental light flashes delivered to the dark central region, the cell's sensitivity showed a significant increase when tested with a white noise or sinusoidally modulated central spot. Unlike horizontal cells in other retinas studied thus far, however, response dynamics remained unchanged. Responses evoked either by a small spot (0.25-mm diam) or by a large field light covering the entire retina were almost identical in time course. This is in contrast with past findings from cone-driven horizontal cells whose response waveform (dynamics) was dependent upon the size of the retinal area stimulated.

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