Single-photon detection by rod cells of the retina

F. Rieke and D. A. Baylor
Rev. Mod. Phys. 70, 1027 – Published 1 July 1998
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At low light levels, the visual system detects and counts photon absorptions with a reliability close to limits set by statistical fluctuations in the number of absorbed photons. Thus the rod photoreceptors that provide the input signals to the dark-adapted visual system act as nearly perfect photon counters. This elegant performance is possible because light detection in the rods satisfies four functional requirements: high quantum efficiency, sufficient amplification to produce a measurable response, low dark noise, and low trial-to-trial variability in the elementary response. The rod meets these requirements using biochemical reactions rather than the solid-state reactions of silicon detectors, yet its performance equals or exceeds that of man-made detectors in several ways.


    ©1998 American Physical Society

    Authors & Affiliations

    F. Rieke

    • Department of Physiology and Biophysics, University of Washington, Seattle, Washington 98195

    D. A. Baylor

    • Department of Neurobiology, Stanford University, Stanford, California 94305

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    Vol. 70, Iss. 3 — July - September 1998

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