Functional organization of ganglion cells in the salamander retina.
Recently, we reported a novel technique for recording all of the ganglion cells in a retinal patch and showed that their receptive fields cover visual space roughly 60 times over in the tiger salamander. Here, we carry this analysis further and divide the population of ganglion cells into functional classes using quantitative clustering algorithms that combine several response characteristics. Using only the receptive field to classify ganglion cells revealed six cell types, in agreement with anatomical studies. Adding other response measures served to blur the distinctions between these cell types rather than resolve further classes. Only the biphasic off type had receptive fields that tiled the retina. Even when we attempted to split these classes more finely, ganglion cells with almost identical functional properties were found to have strongly overlapping spatial receptive fields. A territorial spatial organization, where ganglion cell receptive fields tend to avoid those of other cells of the same type, was only found for the biphasic off cell. We further studied the functional segregation of the ganglion cell population by computing the amount of visual information shared between pairs of cells under natural movie stimulation. This analysis revealed an extensive mixing of visual information among cells of different functional type. Together, our results indicate that the salamander retina uses a population code in which every point in visual space is represented by multiple neurons with subtly different visual sensitivities.