The Response of Retinal Neurons to Electrical Stimulation: A Summary of In Vitro and In Vivo Animal Studies

  • Shelley I. Fried
  • Ralph J. Jensen


The studies reviewed in this chapter are restricted to those that electrically stimulate the retina. The research studies reviewed in this chapter are further limited to those performed in animal models; the results of human clinical studies are covered in subsequent chapters.

The neural response to electrical stimulation is influenced (potentially) by a large number of stimulation-related variables (Chaps.  6–10). Stimulating electrodes can be constructed in different shapes and sizes and fabricated out of different materials. Arrays of multiple electrodes can be configured in many different arrangements and ultimately positioned on opposite sides of the retina, or even penetrate into the retina. In addition, the phase length, duration, amplitude and/or frequency of stimulus pulses can each vary, some by several orders of magnitude.

The neurobiology of the retina creates additional variables. There are five major classes of retinal neurons and each is a potential target of electrical stimulation. Each class can be subdivided into many different types; the anatomical and biophysical properties of each can vary considerably. Therefore, the response to electrical stimulation may also vary across types. Since each type is thought to convey different features of the visual world, stimulation methods that do not activate all types appropriately may not convey some or all of the important features of the visual scene.

Systematic study of the interactions between all engineering and neurobiological variables requires an extensive matrix of experiments. As a result, many basic ­questions remain unexplored. Here, we will focus on the experimental studies that have yielded the more important insights into either the mechanism by which retinal neurons respond to electrical stimulation or those that have led to improved stimulation­ methods. The final section of this chapter is devoted to a discussion of some important, unanswered questions.


Bipolar Cell Amacrine Cell Stimulate Electrode Retinal Neuron Stimulus Pulse 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.



Age-related macular degeneration


2-Amino-4-phosphonobutyric acid




Directionally selective


Electrically elicited cortical potentials


Local edge detector


Local field potential


(+)-5-Methyl-10,11-dihydro-5H-dibenzo[a,d]cyclohepten-5,10-imine maleate




Royal College of Surgeons


Retinal degeneration 1


Retinal ganglion cell


Retinitis pigmentosa



Support provided by Department of Veterans Affairs, Rehabilitation Research and Development Service.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC 2011

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.VA Boston Healthcare SystemBostonUSA
  2. 2.Massachusetts General Hospital & Harvard Medical SchoolBostonUSA

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