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Frontiers in zoology

Visual acuity in larval zebrafish: behavior and histology.


PMID 20193078

Abstract

Visual acuity, the ability of the visual system to distinguish two separate objects at a given angular distance, is influenced by the optical and neuronal properties of the visual system. Although many factors may contribute, the ultimate limit is photoreceptor spacing. In general, at least one unstimulated photoreceptor flanked by two stimulated ones is needed to perceive two objects as separate. This critical interval is also referred to as the Nyquist frequency and is according to the Shannon sampling theorem the highest spatial frequency where a pattern can be faithfully transmitted. We measured visual acuity in a behavioral experiment and compared the data to the physical limit given by photoreceptor spacing in zebrafish larvae. We determined visual acuity by using the optokinetic response (OKR), reflexive eye movements in response to whole field movements of the visual scene. By altering the spatial frequency we determined the visual acuity at approximately 0.16 cycles/degree (cpd) (minimum separable angle = 3.1 degrees ). On histological sections we measured the retinal magnification factor and the distance between double cones, that are thought to mediate motion perception. These measurements set the physical limit at 0.24 cpd (2.1 degrees ). The maximal spatial information as limited by photoreceptor spacing can not be fully utilized in a motion dependent visual behavior, arguing that the larval zebrafish visual system has not matured enough to optimally translate visual information into behavior. Nevertheless behavioral acuity is remarkable close to its maximal value, given the immature state of young zebrafish larvae.