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Illuminating research: new insight into night vision

Scientists have discovered that cells in the retina change roles to help detect motion in low light

Night vision

Scientists from Duke University have explored how cells in the retina adapt to darkness and low light.

While it was previously thought that retinal circuits are unchanging, researchers have discovered that the retina reprogrammes itself in altered light conditions.

The transition occurs in the cells in the retina that are sensitive to motion. Humans have four types of neurons in their eyes that are each sensitive to a different direction of motion.

The study authors conducted an experiment with mouse retinas in a darkened room. They found that retinal cells that are usually sensitive to upward movement change their behaviour in low light.

The cells become sensitive to all directions of movement when less light is available.

Duke University assistant professor, Greg Field, highlighted: "We've learned that large populations of retinal neurons can adapt their function to compensate for different conditions."

He added that this new understanding of the adaptability of retinal neurons could assist with the design of retinal prostheses for patients with severe vision loss.

The research is published in Neuron.

Image credit: Duke University