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Aging of human short-wave cone pathways


The retinal image is sampled concurrently, and largely independently, by three physiologically and anatomically distinct pathways, each with separate ON and OFF subdivisions. The retinal circuitry giving rise to an ON pathway receiving input from the short-wave-sensitive (S) cones is well understood, but the S-cone OFF circuitry is more controversial. Here, we characterize the temporal properties of putative S-cone ON and OFF pathways in younger and older observers by measuring thresholds for stimuli that produce increases or decreases in S-cone stimulation, while the middle- and long-wave-sensitive cones are unmodulated. We characterize the data in terms of an impulse response function, the theoretical response to a flash of infinitely short duration, from which the response to any temporally varying stimulus may be predicted. Results show that the S-cone response to increments is faster than to decrements, but this difference is significantly greater for older individuals. The impulse response function amplitudes for increment and decrement responses are highly correlated across individuals, whereas the timing is not. This strongly suggests that the amplitude is controlled by neural circuitry that is common to S-cone ON and OFF responses (photoreceptors), whereas the timing is controlled by separate postreceptoral pathways. The slower response of the putative OFF pathway is ascribed to different retinal circuitry, possibly attributable to a sign-inverting amacrine cell not present in the ON pathway. It is significant that this pathway is affected selectively in the elderly by becoming slower, whereas the temporal properties of the S-cone ON response are stable across the life span of an individual.

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