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Open Access Publications from the University of California

A model of ganglion axon pathways accounts for percepts elicited by retinal implants.

  • Author(s): Beyeler, Michael
  • Nanduri, Devyani
  • Weiland, James D
  • Rokem, Ariel
  • Boynton, Geoffrey M
  • Fine, Ione
  • et al.

Degenerative retinal diseases such as retinitis pigmentosa and macular degeneration cause irreversible vision loss in more than 10 million people worldwide. Retinal prostheses, now implanted in over 250 patients worldwide, electrically stimulate surviving cells in order to evoke neuronal responses that are interpreted by the brain as visual percepts ('phosphenes'). However, instead of seeing focal spots of light, current implant users perceive highly distorted phosphenes that vary in shape both across subjects and electrodes. We characterized these distortions by asking users of the Argus retinal prosthesis system (Second Sight Medical Products Inc.) to draw electrically elicited percepts on a touchscreen. Using ophthalmic fundus imaging and computational modeling, we show that elicited percepts can be accurately predicted by the topographic organization of optic nerve fiber bundles in each subject's retina, successfully replicating visual percepts ranging from 'blobs' to oriented 'streaks' and 'wedges' depending on the retinal location of the stimulating electrode. This provides the first evidence that activation of passing axon fibers accounts for the rich repertoire of phosphene shape commonly reported in psychophysical experiments, which can severely distort the quality of the generated visual experience. Overall our findings argue for more detailed modeling of biological detail across neural engineering applications.

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