The functional properties of the processing of visual information by the complex eye of Limulus was studied. The spatial distribution of activity that results in the optic nerve when the Limulus eye is exposed to a stationary optical pattern depends upon the transfer characteristics of two subsystems: the dioptric apparatus and the nervous interactions comprising the lateral inhibition system. — The transfer characteristic of the dioptric apparatus is determined by the sensitivity distribution function of single ommatidia. This distribution was measured and found to be approximately of Gauss-function type. The sensitivity falls off to 1/e at a distance of one ommatidium; thus the visual fields of adjacent ommatidia strongly overlap. As a consequence of the overlap, amplitudes of the spatial Fourier components, of which the brightness distribution of the optical surround is made up, are more and more reduced with increasing frequency in the intensity distribution on the receptor mosaic. The amplitude of the spatial frequency 1/λ=0,25 (λ in units of interommatidial distance) is reduced to half of the maximum value, which is attained at zero frequency. It is shown that the amplitude frequency characteristic of the sensitivity distribution function has no zeros, which means that no loss of optical information results from overlap of visual fields. Thus the resolving power of the dioptric apparatus is limited only by the number of receptors per unit area. — The transfer characteristic of the lateral inhibition system in the Limulus eye depends on the distribution of the inhibitory coefficients around the individual receptors. This distribution function was determined from excitatory responses in the optic nerve elicited by a spatial light intensity step function on the receptor mosaic. It is found that this distribution is also Gaussian in form, but decays to 1/e at a distance of eight to nine ommatidia along the major axis of the eye. The average value of the inhibitory coefficients between adjacent ommatidia was found to be 0,025. The amplitude frequency response of the inhibitory system is constant for high spatial frequencies down to 1/λ=0,1 while amplitudes of lower frequency sinusoids are reduced down to nearly half of the maximum value at frequency zero. The amplitude frequency characteristic of the inhibitory system ensures a one to one correspondence between the intensity distribution on the receptor mosaic and the excitation distribution in the optic nerve. The overall transfer characteristic of the eye is derived from the transfer characteristics of the dioptric apparatus and the inhibitory system. This characteristic is of bandpass type with a maximum amplitude response at a frequency of 1/λ=0,07. The overall transfer characteristic was independently confirmed in a separate experiment. The nature of the overall transfer characteristic shows that the inhibitory system does not exactly correct for the overlap of the visual fields of single ommatidia, which in principal the system could do if the distributions of inhibitory coefficients and ommatidia sensitivity were equal. The overall transfer characteristic of the Limulus eye garantees a one to one correspondence between patterns in the optical surround and excitation distributions in the optic nerve. — The average values of the inhibitory coefficients derived from these experiments are at least a factor ten smaller than those determined directly by other investigators. Possible explanations of this discrepency are discussed. — In a separate chapter the overall transfer characteristic for eyes submerged in water is described. It was found that this characteristic does not differ from that determined in air for the eye region which was investigated in the experiments. This result is explained by two properties of the eye which are dependent on the refractive index of the surround medium and whose influences cancel each other: the visual fields of ommatidia are reduced under water, while the divergence angles between the optical axes of adjacent ommatidia also diminish.
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This research was supported in part by the United States Air Force under Grant No. AF-EOAR-62-41 and monitored by the European Office, Office of Aerospace Research.
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Kirschfeld, K., Reichardt, W. Die Verarbeitung stationärer optischer Nachrichten im Komplexauge von Limulus. Kybernetik 2, 43–61 (1964). https://doi.org/10.1007/BF00288558