Responses to flashes and steps of light were recorded intracellularly from rods and horizontal cells, and extracellularly from ganglion cells, in toad eyecups which were either dark adapted or exposed to various levels of background light. The average background intensities needed to depress the dark-adapted flash sensitivity by half in the three cell types, determined under identical conditions, were 0.9 Rh*s-1 (rods), 0.8 Rh*s-1 (horizontal cells), and 0.17 Rh*s-1 (ganglion cells), where Rh* denotes one isomerization per rod. Thus, there is a range (approximately 0.7 log units) of weak backgrounds where the sensitivity (response amplitude/Rh*) of rods is not significantly affected, but where that of ganglion cells (1/threshold) is substantially reduced, which implies that the gain of the transmission from rods to the ganglion cell output is decreased. In this range, the ganglion cell threshold rises approximately as the square root of background intensity (i.e. in proportion to the quantal noise from the background), while the maintained rate of discharge stays constant. The threshold response of the cell will then signal light deviations (from a mean level) of constant statistical significance. We propose that this type of ganglion cell desensitization under dim backgrounds is due to a post-receptoral gain control driven by quantal fluctuations, and term it noise adaptation in contrast to the Weber adaptation (desensitization proportional to the mean background intensity) of rods, horizontal cells, and ganglion cells at higher background intensities.

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