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Is colour modulation an independent factor in human visual photosensitivity?

Jaime Parra, Fernando H Lopes da Silva, Hans Stroink, Stiliyan Kalitzin
Brain 2007, 130: 1679-89
Considering that the role of colour in photosensitive epilepsy (PSE) remains unclear, we designed a study to determine the potential of different colours, colour combinations and white light to trigger photoparoxysmal responses (PPRs) under stringent controlled conditions. After assessing their photosensitivity to stroboscopic white light and black and white patterns, we studied 43 consecutive PSE patients (mean age 19 years, 34 women), using a specially designed colour stimulator. Stimuli included: pulse trains between 10 and 30 Hz of white light and of all primary colours, and also isoluminant alternating time-sequences of colours. Illuminance was kept constant at 100 lux. A progressive stepwise increase of the modulation-depth (MD) of the stimuli was used to determine PPRs threshold. Whereas all the 43 patients were found to be sensitive during the stroboscopic and pattern protocol, only 25 showed PPRs (Waltz's score >2) at least in one session when studied with the colour stimulator. Coloured stimuli elicited PPRs in all these patients, whereas white light did so only in 17 patients. Of the primary colours, red elicited more PPRs (54 in 22 patients) and at a lower MD (max Z-score 0.93 at 10 Hz). Of the alternating sequences, the red-blue was the most provocative stimulus, especially below 30 Hz (100% of patients, max Z-score: 1.65 at 15 Hz). Blue-green was the least provocative stimulus, since it elicited only seven PPRs in seven (28%) patients (max Z-score 0.44 at 10 Hz). Sensitivity to alternating colours was not correlated to sensitivity to individual colours. We conclude that colour sensitivity follows two different mechanisms: one, dependent on colour modulation, plays a role at lower frequencies (<30 Hz). Another, dependent on single-colour light intensity modulation correlates to white light sensitivity and is activated at higher frequencies. Our results suggest that the prescription of spectacles with coloured lenses, tailored to the patient, can be an effective preventative measure against visually induced seizures.

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