Researchers from The University of Manchester have used the chemical process to trigger the eye into thinking the zone in front of it is brighter than it actually is. By making the entire retinal more active, this offers new insights into how animals perceive the world around them.
The study also provides data that demonstrates how the retina communicates with the brain, especially when animals are responding to different situations. The research to date has been conducted using mice, looking out how the retinas of the rodents receive light focused by the lens and how this light is converted into a series of neural signals, which are then sent via a neural pathway to brain.
The effect of tricking the retina was described as akin to increasing the ‘bandwidth’ of the communication flow from the retina to the brain. The scientists see a parallel between the way the nervous system communicates with the brain as being similar to a digital communication channel, and further with this analogy the communication uses up a lot of energy. This means optimising the bandwidth can increase the efficiency of the visual interoperation process.
The research has wider implications, demonstrating insights into the nervous system and how it regulates energy. Speaking with Phys.org, lead researcher Dr Riccardo Storchi, stated: “This discovery provides some important insight into a simple mechanism by which flexible allocation of energy resources is regulated by the retina.”
He adds further: “This effect is mediated by specialist neurons known as ‘intrinsically photosensitive retinal ganglion cells’ which act like a light-meter, regulating communication between retina and the brain.”
A retinal ganglion cell is a type of neuron located near the inner surface (the ganglion cell layer) of the retina of the eye. The cell receives visual information from photoreceptors through two intermediate neuron types. These are bipolar cells and retina amacrine cells.
The research is published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, with the research paper called “Photoreceptive retinal ganglion cells control the information rate of the optic nerve.”