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Real neurons are noisy. Can a retinal prosthetic figure that out?

NEI-funded research shows that the brain has adaptive noise filters that change with conditions, making signals 20% to 100% more accurate
September 16, 2020
Retinal ganglion cell with a red cell body and green axons spread out over a large area

Retinal ganglion cells receive information about the light our eyes detect from other cells in the retina at structures called dendrites and then relay it to the brain via axons. Credit: National Eye Institute


If human eyes came in a package, it would have to be labeled “Natural product. Some variation may occur.” Because the million-plus retinal ganglion cells that send signals to the human brain for interpretation don’t all perform exactly the same way.

They are what an engineer would call ‘noisy’ -- there is variance between cells and from one moment to the next. And yet, when we see a photograph of a beautiful flower, it looks sharp and colorful and we know what it is.

The brain’s visual centers must be adept at filtering out the noise from the retinal cells to get to the true signal, and those filters have to constantly adapt to light conditions to keep the signal clear. Prosthetic retinas and neural implants are going to need this same kind of adaptive noise-filtering to succeed, research supported by the NEI suggests. The study was conducted at Duke University and appears in a Nature Communications.

Read more at Duke Today.