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Retinal wave behavior through activity-dependent refractory periods

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In the developing mammalian visual system, spontaneous retinal ganglion cell (RGC) activity contributes to and drives several aspects of visual system organization. This spontaneous activity takes the form of spreading patches of synchronized bursting that slowly advance across portions of the retina. These patches are non-repeating and tile the retina in minutes. Several transmitter systems are known to be involved, but the basic mechanism underlying wave production is still not well-understood. We present a model for retinal waves that focuses on acetylcholine mediated waves but whose principles are adaptable to other developmental stages. Its assumptions are that a) spontaneous depolarizations of amacrine cells drive wave activity; b) amacrine cells are locally connected, and c) cells receiving more input during their depolarization are subsequently less responsive and have longer periods between spontaneous depolarizations. The resulting model produces waves with non-repeating borders and randomly distributed initiation points. The wave generation mechanism appears to be chaotic and does not require neural noise to produce this wave behavior. Variations in parameter settings allow the model to produce waves that are similar in size, frequency, and velocity to those observed in several species. Our results suggest that retinal wave behavior results from activity-dependent refractory periods and that the average velocity of retinal waves depends on the duration a cell is excitatory: longer periods of excitation result in slower waves. In contrast to previous studies, we find that a single layer of cells is sufficient for wave generation. The principles described here are very general and may be adaptable to the description of spontaneous wave activity in other areas of the nervous system. © 2007 Godfrey and Swindale.




Godfrey, K. B., & Swindale, N. V. (2007). Retinal wave behavior through activity-dependent refractory periods. PLoS Computational Biology, 3(11), 2408–2420.

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