Scientists bring new insight into how animals see

January 28, 2019, University of Manchester
Retinal neurons convey visual information to the brain a sequence of electrical pulses. Credit: University of Manchester

Scientists from The University of Manchester have found a way to trick the eye into thinking the world is brighter than it actually is.

Using a , the team activated a small group of retinal in , which unexpectedly made almost the whole retina more active.

Though more research is needed, the study provides new insight into how the retina communicates with the when animals respond to different situations.

The retina is a thin layer of tissue that lines the back of the eye which receives light focused by the lens, and convert it into which are sent to the brain.

The manipulation, carried out in mice, effectively increased the "bandwidth" of from the retina to the brain.

The research was funded by Medical Research Council, European Research Council and the National Centre for Replacement, Refinement and Reduction of Animal Research (NC3Rs). It is published in published in PNAS.

The discovery led by Professor Rob Lucas from The University of Manchester, uncovers an important principle underlying the way in which different areas of the nervous system communicate with each other.

Using the analogy of a digital communication channel, neural communication uses up a lot of energy so its bandwidth must be optimised according to changes in demand.

Since the 1990s, scientists have shown that on average brain activity is limited to between 1 to 5 electrical pulses per second per neuron.

However at any given time, some parts of the brain may demand many more pulses to perform optimally.

Dr Riccardo Storchi, who was on the team said: "This discovery provides some important insight into a simple mechanism by which flexible allocation of energy resources is regulated by the retina.

"This effect is mediated by specialist neurons known as 'intrinsically photosensitive retinal ganglion cells' (ipRGCs) which act like a light-meter, regulating communication between and the brain.

"We have known for a while that neuron pulses are energetically expensive, but until now we didn't understand what regulates their frequency. This is a first step which we hope will tackle this important question."

Explore further: Researchers shed light on how our eyes process visual cues

More information: Nina Milosavljevic et al. Photoreceptive retinal ganglion cells control the information rate of the optic nerve, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (2018). DOI: 10.1073/pnas.1810701115

Related Stories

Scientists visualize the connections between eye and brain

July 2, 2018

Most of the human brain's estimated 86 billion nerve cells, or neurons, can ultimately engage in a two-way dialogue with any other neuron. To shed more light on how neurons in this labyrinthine network integrate information—that ...

Eyes have a natural version of night vision

September 13, 2018

To see under starlight and moonlight, the retina of the eye changes both the software and hardware of its light-sensing cells to create a kind of night vision. Retinal circuits that were thought to be unchanging and programmed ...

New insights into how the retina processes orientation

February 26, 2018

In a study published in Nature Communications, Northwestern Medicine scientists detail the discovery of two types of cells in the retina that determine horizontal or vertical orientation, and demonstrated for the first time ...

Recommended for you

Meteorite source in asteroid belt not a single debris field

February 17, 2019

A new study published online in Meteoritics and Planetary Science finds that our most common meteorites, those known as L chondrites, come from at least two different debris fields in the asteroid belt. The belt contains ...

Diagnosing 'art acne' in Georgia O'Keeffe's paintings

February 17, 2019

Even Georgia O'Keeffe noticed the pin-sized blisters bubbling on the surface of her paintings. For decades, conservationists and scholars assumed these tiny protrusions were grains of sand, kicked up from the New Mexico desert ...

Archaeologists discover Incan tomb in Peru

February 16, 2019

Peruvian archaeologists discovered an Incan tomb in the north of the country where an elite member of the pre-Columbian empire was buried, one of the investigators announced Friday.

Where is the universe hiding its missing mass?

February 15, 2019

Astronomers have spent decades looking for something that sounds like it would be hard to miss: about a third of the "normal" matter in the Universe. New results from NASA's Chandra X-ray Observatory may have helped them ...

What rising seas mean for local economies

February 15, 2019

Impacts from climate change are not always easy to see. But for many local businesses in coastal communities across the United States, the evidence is right outside their doors—or in their parking lots.


Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.