Nervous activity has been recorded from the unopened eye of decerebrate cats. Recordings were made with metal electrodes or with small micropipettes from ganglion cells or nerve fibers. Continuous maintained discharges were seen in all ganglion cells during steady illumination of their receptive fields, as well as in complete darkness. Possible artefacts, such as electrode pressure, abnormal circulation, anesthetic, and several other factors have been excluded as the source of the maintained discharge. Visual stimuli are therefore transmitted by modulating the ever present background activity. Discharge frequencies were measured following changes of retinal illumination. No consistent patterns of frequency change were found. The maintained discharge frequency may be permanently increased or decreased, or may remain practically unchanged by altering the steady level of illumination. In addition, there were often transient frequency changes during the first 5 to 10 minutes after changing illumination, before a final steady rate was established. A statistical analysis of the impulse intervals of the maintained discharge showed: (a) the intervals were distributed according to the gamma distribution (Pearson's type III), (b) the first serial correlation coefficient of the intervals was between -0.10 and -0.24, with a mean value of -0.17, which is significantly different from zero, (c) the higher order serial correlation coefficients were not significantly different from zero. Thus the firing probability at any time depends on the times of occurrence of the two preceding impulses only, and in such a way as to indicate that each impulse is followed by a transient depression of excitability that outlasts the following impulse. The possible sites at which spontaneous or maintained activity may originate in the retina are discussed.
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