Rods and Cones Animation

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Date Uploaded: 05/02/2019

Tags: Cones   Photoreceptors   Rods  

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A photoreceptor cell is a specialized type of neuroepithelial cell found in the retina that is capable of visual phototransduction. The great biological importance of photoreceptors is that they convert light (visible electromagnetic radiation) into signals that can stimulate biological processes. To be more specific, photoreceptor proteins in the cell absorb photons, triggering a change in the cell's membrane potential. There are currently three known types of photoreceptor cells in mammalian eyes: rods, cones, and intrinsically photosensitive retinal ganglion cells. The two classic photoreceptor cells are rods and cones, each contributing information used by the visual system to form a representation of the visual world, sight. The rods are narrower than the cones and distributed differently across the retina, but the chemical process in each that supports phototransduction is similar. A third class of mammalian photoreceptor cell was discovered during the 1990s: the intrinsically photosensitive retinal ganglion cells. These cells do not contribute to sight directly, but are thought to support circadian rhythms and pupillary reflex. There are major functional differences between the rods and cones. Rods are extremely sensitive, and can be triggered by a single photon. At very low light levels, visual experience is based solely on the rod signal. Cones require significantly brighter light (that is, a larger number of photons) to produce a signal. In humans, there are three different types of cone cell, distinguished by their pattern of response to light of different wavelengths. Color experience is calculated from these three distinct signals, perhaps via an opponent process. This explains why colors cannot be seen at low light levels, when only the rod and not the cone photoreceptor cells are active. The three types of cone cell respond (roughly) to light of short, medium, and long wavelengths, so they may respectively be referred to as S-cones, M-cones, and L-cones. According to the principle of univariance, the firing of the cell depends upon only the number of photons absorbed. The different responses of the three types of cone cells are determined by the likelihoods that their respective photoreceptor proteins will absorb photons of different wavelengths. So, for example, an L cone cell contains a photoreceptor protein that more readily absorbs long wavelengths of light (that is, more "red"). Light of a shorter wavelength can also produce the same response, but it must be much brighter to do so. The human retina contains about 120 million rod cells, and 6 million cone cells. The number and ratio of rods to cones varies among species, dependent on whether an animal is primarily diurnal or nocturnal. Certain owls, such as the nocturnal tawny owl, have a tremendous number of rods in their retinae. In the human visual system, in addition to the photosensitive rods & cones, there are about 2.4 million to 3 million ganglion cells, with 1 to 2% of them being photosensitive. The axons of ganglion cells form the two optic nerves. Photoreceptor cells are typically arranged in an irregular but approximately hexagonal grid, known as the retinal mosaic. The pineal and parapineal glands are photoreceptive in non-mammalian vertebrates, but not in mammals. Birds have photoactive cerebrospinal fluid (CSF)-contacting neurons within the paraventricular organ that respond to light in the absence of input from the eyes or neurotransmitters. Invertebrate photoreceptors in organisms such as insects and molluscs are different in both their morphological organization and their underlying biochemical pathways. This article describes human photoreceptors.

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