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Nonlinear dynamic transfer functions for certain retinal neuronal systems

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The applicability of the white-noise method to the identification of a nonlinear system is investigated. Subsequently, the method is applied to certain vertebrate retinal neuronal systems and nonlinear, dynamic transfer functions are derived which describe quantitatively the information transformations starting with the light-pattern stimulus and culminating in the ganglion response which constitutes the visually-derived input to the brain. The retina of the catfish, Ictalurus punctatus, is used for the experiments. The Wiener formulation of the white-noise theory is shown to be impractical and difficult to apply to a physical system. A different formulation based on crosscorrelation techniques is shown to be applicable to a wide range of physical systems provided certain considerations are taken into account. These considerations include the time-invariancy of the system, an optimum choice of the white-noise input bandwidth, nonlinearities that allow a representation in terms of a small number of characterizing kernels, the memory of the system and the temporal length of the characterizing experiment. Error analysis of the kernel estimates is made taking into account various sources of error such as noise at the input and output, bandwidth of white-noise input and the truncation of the gaussian by the apparatus. Nonlinear transfer functions are obtained, as sets of kernels, for several neuronal systems: Light → Receptors, Light → Horizontal, Horizontal → Ganglion, Light → Ganglion and Light → ERG. The derived models can predict, with reasonable accuracy, the system response to any input. Comparison of model and physical system performance showed close agreement for a great number of tests, the most stringent of which is comparison of their responses to a white-noise input. Other tests include step and sine responses and power spectra. Many functional traits are revealed by these models. Some are: (a) the receptor and horizontal cell systems are nearly linear (small signal) with certain "small" nonlinearities, and become faster (latency-wise and frequency-response-wise) at higher intensity levels, (b) all ganglion systems are nonlinear (half-wave rectification), (c) the receptive field center to ganglion system is slower (latency-wise and frequency-response-wise) than the periphery to ganglion system, (d) the lateral (eccentric) ganglion systems are just as fast (latency and frequency response) as the concentric ones, (e) (bipolar response) = (input from receptors) - (input from horizontal cell), (f) receptive field center and periphery exert an antagonistic influence on the ganglion response, (g) implications about the origin of ERG, and many others. An analytical solution is obtained for the spatial distribution of potential in the S-space, which fits very well experimental data. Different synaptic mechanisms of excitation for the external and internal horizontal cells are implied.

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