Cone synaptic terminals couple electrically to their neighbors. This reduces the amplitude of temporally uncorrelated voltage differences between neighbors. For an achromatic stimulus coarser than the cone mosaic, the uncorrelated voltage difference between neighbors represents mostly noise; so noise is reduced more than the signal. Here coupling improves signal-to-noise ratio and enhances contrast sensitivity. But for a chromatic stimulus the uncorrelated voltage difference between neighbors of different spectral type represents mostly signal; so signal would be reduced more than the noise. This cost of cone coupling to encoding chromatic signals was evaluated using a compartmental model of the foveal cone array. When cones sensitive to middle (M) and long (L) wavelengths alternated regularly, and the conductance between a cone and all of its immediate neighbors was 1000 pS (∼2 connexons/cone pair), coupling reduced the difference between the L and M action spectra by nearly fivefold, from about 38% to 8%. However, L and M cones distribute randomly in the mosaic, forming small patches of like type, and within a patch the responses to a chromatic stimulus are correlated. In such a mosaic, coupling still reduced the difference between the L and M action spectra, but only by 2.4-fold, to about 18%. This result is independent of the L/M ratio. Thus “patchiness” of the L/M mosaic allows cone coupling to improve achromatic contrast sensitivity while minimizing the cost to chromatic sensitivity.
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