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Visual contrast perception in visual snow syndrome reveals abnormal neural gain but not neural noise
Brain  (IF13.501),  Pub Date : 2021-10-11, DOI: 10.1093/brain/awab383
Cassandra J Brooks, Yu Man Chan, Joanne Fielding, Owen B White, David R Badcock, Allison M McKendrick

Visual snow syndrome is a neurological condition characterised by a persistent visual disturbance, visual snow, in conjunction with additional visual symptoms. Cortical hyperexcitability is a potential pathophysiological mechanism, which could be explained by increased gain in neural responses to visual input. Alternatively, neural noise in the visual pathway could be abnormally elevated. We assessed these two potential competing neural mechanisms in our studies of visual contrast perception. Cortical hyperexcitation also occurs in migraine, which commonly co-occurs with visual snow syndrome. Therefore, to determine whether the effect of visual snow syndrome can be distinguished from interictal migraine, we recruited four participant groups: controls, migraine alone, visual snow syndrome alone, visual snow syndrome with migraine. In the first experiment, we estimated internal noise in 20 controls, 21 migraine participants, 32 visual snow syndrome participants (16 with migraine) using a luminance increment detection task. In the second experiment, we estimated neural contrast gain in 21 controls, 22 migraine participants, 35 visual snow syndrome participants (16 with migraine) using tasks assessing sensitivity to changes in contrast from a reference. Contrast gain and sensitivity were measured for the putative parvocellular and ON and OFF magnocellular pathways, respectively. We found that luminance increment thresholds and internal noise estimates were normal in both visual snow syndrome and migraine. Contrast gain measures for putative parvocellular processing and contrast sensitivity for putative OFF magnocellular processing were abnormally increased in visual snow syndrome, regardless of migraine status. Therefore, our results indicate that visual snow syndrome is characterised by increased neural contrast gain but not abnormal neural noise within the targeted pathways.