[show abstract][hide abstract] ABSTRACT: Photoreception in the mammalian retina is not restricted to rods and cones but extends to a subset of retinal ganglion cells expressing the photopigment melanopsin (mRGCs). These mRGCs are known to drive such reflex light responses as circadian photoentrainment and pupillomotor movements. By contrast, until now there has been no direct assessment of their contribution to conventional visual pathways. Here, we address this deficit. Using new reporter lines, we show that mRGC projections are much more extensive than previously thought and extend across the dorsal lateral geniculate nucleus (dLGN), origin of thalamo-cortical projection neurons. We continue to show that this input supports extensive physiological light responses in the dLGN and visual cortex in mice lacking rods+cones (a model of advanced retinal degeneration). Moreover, using chromatic stimuli to isolate melanopsin-derived responses in mice with an intact visual system, we reveal strong melanopsin input to the ∼40% of neurons in the LGN that show sustained activation to a light step. We demonstrate that this melanopsin input supports irradiance-dependent increases in the firing rate of these neurons. The implication that melanopsin is required to accurately encode stimulus irradiance is confirmed using melanopsin knockout mice. Our data establish melanopsin-based photoreception as a significant source of sensory input to the thalamo-cortical visual system, providing unique irradiance information and allowing visual responses to be retained even in the absence of rods+cones. These findings identify mRGCs as a potential origin for aspects of visual perception and indicate that they may support vision in people suffering retinal degeneration.
[show abstract][hide abstract] ABSTRACT: Rod/cone photoreceptors of the outer retina and the melanopsin-expressing retinal ganglion cells (mRGCs) of the inner retina mediate non-image forming visual responses including entrainment of the circadian clock to the ambient light, the pupillary light reflex (PLR), and light modulation of activity. Targeted deletion of the melanopsin gene attenuates these adaptive responses with no apparent change in the development and morphology of the mRGCs. Comprehensive identification of mRGCs and knowledge of their specific roles in image-forming and non-image forming photoresponses are currently lacking. We used a Cre-dependent GFP expression strategy in mice to genetically label the mRGCs. This revealed that only a subset of mRGCs express enough immunocytochemically detectable levels of melanopsin. We also used a Cre-inducible diphtheria toxin receptor (iDTR) expression approach to express the DTR in mRGCs. mRGCs develop normally, but can be acutely ablated upon diphtheria toxin administration. The mRGC-ablated mice exhibited normal outer retinal function. However, they completely lacked non-image forming visual responses such as circadian photoentrainment, light modulation of activity, and PLR. These results point to the mRGCs as the site of functional integration of the rod/cone and melanopsin phototransduction pathways and as the primary anatomical site for the divergence of image-forming and non-image forming photoresponses in mammals.
PLoS ONE 02/2008; 3(6):e2451. · 3.73 Impact Factor