To improve the usefulness of the ERG in identifying the sites and mechanisms of adaptation, development, and disease processes, a theoretical framework based upon Granit's analysis of the ERG was evaluated. The framework assumes that the ERG is the sum of two potentials, one, P3, generated by the receptors and the other, P2, generated by the cells of the INL. Hood and Birch (1990a, b) demonstrated that the leading edge of the a-wave can be quantitatively described by a model used to describe the response from single rod receptors. This model provides P3(t), a theoretical receptor response as a function of time, for any given flash intensity. The ERGs from normal observers and patients with retinal diseases were analyzed in this framework, first by deriving P2 by computer subtracting the predicted P3(t) responses. This analysis was successful and a computational model of the ERG was then derived. The model of P2(t) was constructed with linear filters and a static nonlinearity and using P3(t) as the input. The ERG for any given flash intensity is then P3(t) + P2(t) The model describes (1) the change both in implicit times and in trough-to-peak b–wave amplitudes with flash intensity for the normal, dark-adapted observers; and (2) the changes in b–wave implicit times and amplitudes for three patients with retinal diseases.
Among the implications drawn from these analyses were as follows: (1) The fits of the Naka-Rushton equation to trough-to-peak b–wave amplitudes must be interpreted with great care. (2) When the INL is affected by retinal disease, the b–wave may be a very poor reflection of INL activity. (3) The implicit time of the b–wave can provide a measure of receptor sensitivity.