Published online by Cambridge University Press: 02 June 2009
A method for constructing nonlinear models for light adaptation in the retina is introduced. The components of the models are linear filters and static (instantaneous) nonlinear elements configured in a feedback arrangement. The signals in the models are combined through algebraic addition or multiplication. We apply the method to model light adaptation measured in turtle horizontal cells. Given a particular wiring diagram for the components, the functional forms of the static nonlinearities and frequency responses of the linear filters are determined by constraining the model to give temporal frequency responses (linear regime behavior) consistent with a family of linear feedback models which has been shown to provide a good description of adaptation in these cells. Two particular models, quite different in structure, are presented. Each model responds to perturbations around a mean light level as a feedback circuit in which the gain (strength) of feedback is adjusted to be proportional to the mean light level, but neither model has a separate pathway for measuring the mean light level. Thus, each of these nonlinear models embeds an entire family of linear models parametric in mean light level. Harmonic distortion in the responses of these models to sinusoidal input is found to be qualitatively consistent with physiological data. An alternative class of nonlinear models in which feedback gain is set by a separate slow pathway which tracks the mean light level is ruled out on the basis of its incorrect steady-state input-output behavior. The methods presented can be used to develop specific physical models for light adaptation based on the chemical kinetics of phototransduction or on nonlinear neural feedback. The relevance of the nonlinear models and construction techniques to modeling phototransduction is discussed.