Objective assessment of visual acuity: a refined model for analyzing the sweep VEP

  • Torsten StrasserEmail author
  • Fadi Nasser
  • Hana Langrová
  • Ditta Zobor
  • Łukasz Lisowski
  • Dominic Hillerkuss
  • Carla Sailer
  • Anne Kurtenbach
  • Eberhart Zrenner
Original Research Article



The aim of this study was to develop a simple and reliable method for the objective assessment of visual acuity by optimizing the stimulus used in commercially available systems and by improving the methods of evaluation using a nonlinear function, the modified Ricker model.


Subjective visual acuity in the normal subjects was measured with Snellen targets, best-corrected, and in some cases also uncorrected and with plus lenses (+ 1 D, + 2 D, + 3 D). In patients, subjective visual acuity was measured best-corrected using the Freiburg Visual Acuity Test. Sweep VEP recordings to 11 spatial frequencies, with check sizes in logarithmically equidistant steps (0.6, 0.9, 1.4, 2.1, 3.3, 4.9, 7.3, 10.4, 18.2, 24.4, and 36.5 cpd), were obtained from 56 healthy subjects aged between 17 and 69 years (mean 42.5 ± 15.3 SD years) and 20 patients with diseases of the lens (n = 6), retina (n = 8) or optic nerve (n = 6). The results were fit by a multiple linear regression (2nd-order polynomial) or a nonlinear regression (modified Ricker model) and parameters compared (limiting spatial frequency (sflimiting) and the spatial frequency of the vertex (sfvertex) of the parabola for the 2nd-order polynomial fitting, and the maximal spatial frequency (sfmax), and the spatial frequency where the amplitude is 2 dB higher than the level of noise (sfthreshold) for the modified Ricker model.


Recording with 11 spatial frequencies allows a more accurate determination of acuities above 1.0 logMAR. Tuning curves fitted to the results show that compared to the normal 2nd-order polynomial analysis, the modified Ricker model is able to describe closely the amplitudes of the sweep VEP in relation to the spatial frequencies of the presented checkerboards. In patients with a visual acuity better than about 0.5 (decimal), the predicted acuities based on the different parameters show a good match of the predicted visual acuities based on the models established in healthy volunteers to the subjective visual acuities. However, for lower visual acuities, both models tend to overestimate the visual acuity (up to ~ 0.4 logMAR), especially in patients suffering from AMD.


Both models, the 2nd-order polynomial and the modified Ricker model performed equally well in the prediction of the visual acuity based on the amplitudes recorded using the sweep VEP. However, the modified Ricker model does not require the exclusion of data points from the fit, as necessary when fitting the 2nd-order polynomial model making it more reliable and robust against outliers, and, in addition, provides a measure for the noise of the recorded results.


Visual acuity Visual electrophysiology Visual evoked potentials Sweep VEP 



This research was supported partially by a scholarship to TS from the Tistou and Charlotte Kerstan Foundation and through the fortüne-Programme of the Faculty of Medicine, University of Tuebingen (Grant number: 2188-0-0). We thank Prof. Dr. Michael Bach for the fruitful discussion of the modified Ricker model and the suggestion to study the distribution of the shape parameter of the generalized Ricker model. Finally, we thank the two anonymous reviewers whose suggestions and comments greatly improved this manuscript.

Compliance with ethical standards

Conflict of interest

All authors certify that they have no affiliations with or involvement in any organization or entity with any financial interest (such as honoraria; educational grants; participation in speakers’ bureaus; membership, employment, consultancies, stock ownership, or other equity interest; and expert testimony or patent-licensing arrangements), or non-financial interest (such as personal or professional relationships, affiliations, knowledge or beliefs) in the subject matter or materials discussed in this manuscript.

Statements of human rights

The protocol for this study was approved by the Institutional Review Board of the medical faculty of the University of Tuebingen. All procedures performed in studies involving human participants were in accordance with the ethical standards of the institutional and/or national research committee and with the 1964 Declaration of Helsinki and its later amendments or comparable ethical standards.

Statement on the welfare of animals

Not applicable.

Informed consent

Informed consent was obtained from all individual participants included in the study.


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag GmbH Germany, part of Springer Nature 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Institute for Ophthalmic ResearchUniversity of TuebingenTuebingenGermany
  2. 2.University Eye HospitalHradec KrálovéCzech Republic
  3. 3.Werner Reichardt Centre for Integrative Neuroscience (CIN)University of TuebingenTuebingenGermany

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