We investigated the classical question of why visual acuity decreases with decreasing retinal illuminance by holding retinal eccentricity fixed while illumination varied. Our results indicate that acuity is largely independent of illuminance at any given retinal location, which suggests that under classical free-viewing conditions acuity improves as illumination increases from rod threshold to rod saturation because the retinal location of the stimulus is permitted to migrate from a peripheral location of maximum sensitivity but poor acuity to the foveal location of maximum acuity but poor sensitivity. Comparison with anatomical sampling density of retinal neurons suggests that mesopic acuity at all eccentricities and scotopic acuity for eccentricities beyond about 20° is limited by the spacing of midget ganglion cells. In central retina, however, scotopic acuity is further limited by spatial filtering due to spatial summation within the large, overlapping receptive fields of the A-ll class of amacrine cells interposed in the rod pathway between rod bipolars and midget ganglion cells. Our results offer a mechanistic interpretation of the clinical metrics for low-luminance visual dysfunction used to monitor progression of retinal disease.
Bibliographical noteFunding Information:
Supported by a grant from the National Institutes of Health, National Eye Institute (EY05109 to LNT).
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- mesopic vision
- neural sampling
- scotopic vision
- visual resolution