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1.  A Dendrite-Autonomous Mechanism for Direction Selectivity in Retinal Starburst Amacrine Cells 
PLoS Biology  2007;5(7):e185.
Detection of image motion direction begins in the retina, with starburst amacrine cells (SACs) playing a major role. SACs generate larger dendritic Ca2+ signals when motion is from their somata towards their dendritic tips than for motion in the opposite direction. To study the mechanisms underlying the computation of direction selectivity (DS) in SAC dendrites, electrical responses to expanding and contracting circular wave visual stimuli were measured via somatic whole-cell recordings and quantified using Fourier analysis. Fundamental and, especially, harmonic frequency components were larger for expanding stimuli. This DS persists in the presence of GABA and glycine receptor antagonists, suggesting that inhibitory network interactions are not essential. The presence of harmonics indicates nonlinearity, which, as the relationship between harmonic amplitudes and holding potential indicates, is likely due to the activation of voltage-gated channels. [Ca2+] changes in SAC dendrites evoked by voltage steps and monitored by two-photon microscopy suggest that the distal dendrite is tonically depolarized relative to the soma, due in part to resting currents mediated by tonic glutamatergic synaptic input, and that high-voltage–activated Ca2+ channels are active at rest. Supported by compartmental modeling, we conclude that dendritic DS in SACs can be computed by the dendrites themselves, relying on voltage-gated channels and a dendritic voltage gradient, which provides the spatial asymmetry necessary for direction discrimination.
Author Summary
The visual system dedicates substantial resources to detecting motion and its direction. For more than 40 years, researchers have tried to decipher the underlying computational mechanisms by which retinal neurons compute directed motion. One type of retinal interneuron involved in direction discrimination is the “starburst” amacrine cell. Starburst-cell dendrites are strongly activated by visual motion from their somata towards the dendritic tips, but not by motion in the opposite direction. It has been proposed, for example, that directional selectivity arises from lateral inhibitory interactions in which activated cells inhibit their neighbors. However, despite extensive modeling, the underlying physiological mechanism has remained elusive. Here, by combining whole-cell recordings, two-photon microscopy, and modeling, we show that discrimination of motion direction in starburst-cell dendrites does not require lateral inhibitory interactions in the retina, but can be generated by a “dendrite-autonomous” computation, which relies on intrinsic electrical mechanisms. Blocking inhibitory interactions does not eliminate directional responses, whereas differential activation of voltage-gated membrane conductances and a dendritic voltage gradient can provide the necessary spatial asymmetry to produce directional signals. The computation underlying dendrite-autonomous direction selectivity may represent one of the most intricate examples to date of dendritic information processing.
Direction selectivity in starburst amacrine cells in the retina can arise from voltage-gated channels and a dendritic voltage gradient in the absence of lateral inhibition.
PMCID: PMC1906843  PMID: 17622194
2.  Synaptotagmin I Regulates Patterned Spontaneous Activity in the Developing Rat Retina via Calcium Binding to the C2AB Domains 
PLoS ONE  2012;7(10):e47465.
In neonatal binocular animals, the developing retina displays patterned spontaneous activity termed retinal waves, which are initiated by a single class of interneurons (starburst amacrine cells, SACs) that release neurotransmitters. Although SACs are shown to regulate wave dynamics, little is known regarding how altering the proteins involved in neurotransmitter release may affect wave dynamics. Synaptotagmin (Syt) family harbors two Ca2+-binding domains (C2A and C2B) which serve as Ca2+ sensors in neurotransmitter release. However, it remains unclear whether SACs express any specific Syt isoform mediating retinal waves. Moreover, it is unknown how Ca2+ binding to C2A and C2B of Syt affects wave dynamics. Here, we investigated the expression of Syt I in the neonatal rat retina and examined the roles of C2A and C2B in regulating wave dynamics.
Methodology/Principal Findings
Immunostaining and confocal microscopy showed that Syt I was expressed in neonatal rat SACs and cholinergic synapses, consistent with its potential role as a Ca2+ sensor mediating retinal waves. By combining a horizontal electroporation strategy with the SAC-specific promoter, we specifically expressed Syt I mutants with weakened Ca2+-binding ability in C2A or C2B in SACs. Subsequent live Ca2+ imaging was used to monitor the effects of these molecular perturbations on wave-associated spontaneous Ca2+ transients. We found that targeted expression of Syt I C2A or C2B mutants in SACs significantly reduced the frequency, duration, and amplitude of wave-associated Ca2+ transients, suggesting that both C2 domains regulate wave temporal properties. In contrast, these C2 mutants had relatively minor effects on pairwise correlations over distance for wave-associated Ca2+ transients.
Through Ca2+ binding to C2A or C2B, the Ca2+ sensor Syt I in SACs may regulate patterned spontaneous activity to shape network activity during development. Hence, modulating the releasing machinery in presynaptic neurons (SACs) alters wave dynamics.
PMCID: PMC3472990  PMID: 23091625
3.  Cyclin D1 fine-tunes the neurogenic output of embryonic retinal progenitor cells 
Neural Development  2009;4:15.
Maintaining the correct balance of proliferation versus differentiation in retinal progenitor cells (RPCs) is essential for proper development of the retina. The cell cycle regulator cyclin D1 is expressed in RPCs, and mice with a targeted null allele at the cyclin D1 locus (Ccnd1-/-) have microphthalmia and hypocellular retinas, the latter phenotype attributed to reduced RPC proliferation and increased photoreceptor cell death during the postnatal period. How cyclin D1 influences RPC behavior, especially during the embryonic period, is unclear.
In this study, we show that embryonic RPCs lacking cyclin D1 progress through the cell cycle at a slower rate and exit the cell cycle at a faster rate. Consistent with enhanced cell cycle exit, the relative proportions of cell types born in the embryonic period, such as retinal ganglion cells and photoreceptor cells, are increased. Unexpectedly, cyclin D1 deficiency decreases the proportions of other early born retinal neurons, namely horizontal cells and specific amacrine cell types. We also found that the laminar positioning of horizontal cells and other cell types is altered in the absence of cyclin D1. Genetically replacing cyclin D1 with cyclin D2 is not efficient at correcting the phenotypes due to the cyclin D1 deficiency, which suggests the D-cyclins are not fully redundant. Replacement with cyclin E or inactivation of cyclin-dependent kinase inhibitor p27Kip1 restores the balance of RPCs and retinal cell types to more normal distributions, which suggests that regulation of the retinoblastoma pathway is an important function for cyclin D1 during embryonic retinal development.
Our findings show that cyclin D1 has important roles in RPC cell cycle regulation and retinal histogenesis. The reduction in the RPC population due to a longer cell cycle time and to an enhanced rate of cell cycle exit are likely to be the primary factors driving retinal hypocellularity and altered output of precursor populations in the embryonic Ccnd1-/- retina.
PMCID: PMC2694796  PMID: 19416500
4.  Development of asymmetric inhibition underlying direction selectivity in the retina 
Nature  2010;469(7330):402-406.
Establishing precise synaptic connections is crucial to the development of functional neural circuits. The direction-selective circuit in the retina relies upon highly selective wiring of inhibitory inputs from starburst amacrine cells1 (SACs) onto four subtypes of on–off direction-selective ganglion cell (DSGC), each preferring motion in one of four cardinal directions2. It has been reported in rabbit that the SACs on the ‘null’ sides of DSGCs form functional GABA (γ-aminobutyric acid)-mediated synapses, whereas those on the preferred sides do not3. However, it is not known how the asymmetric wiring between SACs and DSGCs is established during development. Here we report that in transgenic mice with cell-type-specific labelling, the synaptic connections from SACs to DSGCs were of equal strength during the first postnatal week, regardless of whether the SAC was located on the preferred or null side of the DSGC. However, by the end of the second postnatal week, the strength of the synapses made from SACs on the null side of a DSGC significantly increased whereas those made from SACs located on the preferred side remained constant. Blocking retinal activity by intraocular injections of muscimol or gabazine during this period did not alter the development of direction selectivity. Hence, the asymmetric inhibition between the SACs and DSGCs is achieved by a developmental program that specifically strengthens the GABA-mediated inputs from SACs located on the null side, in a manner not dependent on neural activity.
PMCID: PMC3974627  PMID: 21131947
Although many effects of GABA on retinal function have been attributed to GABAA and GABAC receptors, specific retinal functions have also been shown to be mediated by GABAB receptors, including facilitation of light-evoked acetylcholine release from the rabbit retina (Neal and Cunningham, 1995). To explain the results of a rich set of experiments, Neal and Cunningham proposed a model for this facilitation. In this model, GABAB-receptor-mediated inhibition of glycinergic cells would reduce their own inhibition of cholinergic cells. In turn, muscarinic input from the latter to the glycinergic cells would complete a negative-feedback circuitry. In this paper, we use immunohistochemical techniques to test elements of this model. We report that glycinergic amacrine cells are GABAB-receptor negative. In contrast, our data reveal the localization of GABAB receptors on cholinergic/GABAergic starburst amacrine cells. High-resolution localization of GABAB receptors on starburst amacrine cells shows that they are discretely localized to a limited population of its varicosities, with the majority of likely synaptic-release sites being devoid of detectable levels of GABAB receptors. Finally, we identify a glycinergic cell that is a potential muscarinic-receptor-bearing target of GABAB-modulated acetylcholine release. This target is the DAPI-3 cell.
Based on these data, we propose a modification of the Neal-and-Cunningham model in which GABAB receptors are on starburst not glycinergic amacrine cells.
PMCID: PMC2849668  PMID: 16261535
Acetylcholine; glycine; amacrine cell; ganglion cell; muscarinic receptor; directional selectivity; receptor targeting
6.  Exploring the retinal connectome 
Molecular Vision  2011;17:355-379.
A connectome is a comprehensive description of synaptic connectivity for a neural domain. Our goal was to produce a connectome data set for the inner plexiform layer of the mammalian retina. This paper describes our first retinal connectome, validates the method, and provides key initial findings.
We acquired and assembled a 16.5 terabyte connectome data set RC1 for the rabbit retina at ≈2 nm resolution using automated transmission electron microscope imaging, automated mosaicking, and automated volume registration. RC1 represents a column of tissue 0.25 mm in diameter, spanning the inner nuclear, inner plexiform, and ganglion cell layers. To enhance ultrastructural tracing, we included molecular markers for 4-aminobutyrate (GABA), glutamate, glycine, taurine, glutamine, and the in vivo activity marker, 1-amino-4-guanidobutane. This enabled us to distinguish GABAergic and glycinergic amacrine cells; to identify ON bipolar cells coupled to glycinergic cells; and to discriminate different kinds of bipolar, amacrine, and ganglion cells based on their molecular signatures and activity. The data set was explored and annotated with Viking, our multiuser navigation tool. Annotations were exported to additional applications to render cells, visualize network graphs, and query the database.
Exploration of RC1 showed that the 2 nm resolution readily recapitulated well known connections and revealed several new features of retinal organization: (1) The well known AII amacrine cell pathway displayed more complexity than previously reported, with no less than 17 distinct signaling modes, including ribbon synapse inputs from OFF bipolar cells, wide-field ON cone bipolar cells and rod bipolar cells, and extensive input from cone-pathway amacrine cells. (2) The axons of most cone bipolar cells formed a distinct signal integration compartment, with ON cone bipolar cell axonal synapses targeting diverse cell types. Both ON and OFF bipolar cells receive axonal veto synapses. (3) Chains of conventional synapses were very common, with intercalated glycinergic-GABAergic chains and very long chains associated with starburst amacrine cells. Glycinergic amacrine cells clearly play a major role in ON-OFF crossover inhibition. (4) Molecular and excitation mapping clearly segregates ultrastructurally defined bipolar cell groups into different response clusters. (5) Finally, low-resolution electron or optical imaging cannot reliably map synaptic connections by process geometry, as adjacency without synaptic contact is abundant in the retina. Only direct visualization of synapses and gap junctions suffices.
Connectome assembly and analysis using conventional transmission electron microscopy is now practical for network discovery. Our surveys of volume RC1 demonstrate that previously studied systems such as the AII amacrine cell network involve more network motifs than previously known. The AII network, primarily considered a scotopic pathway, clearly derives ribbon synapse input from photopic ON and OFF cone bipolar cell networks and extensive photopic GABAergic amacrine cell inputs. Further, bipolar cells show extensive inputs and outputs along their axons, similar to multistratified nonmammalian bipolar cells. Physiologic evidence of significant ON-OFF channel crossover is strongly supported by our anatomic data, showing alternating glycine-to-GABA paths. Long chains of amacrine cell networks likely arise from homocellular GABAergic synapses between starburst amacrine cells. Deeper analysis of RC1 offers the opportunity for more complete descriptions of specific networks.
PMCID: PMC3036568  PMID: 21311605
7.  Ptf1a triggers GABAergic neuronal cell fates in the retina 
In recent years, considerable knowledge has been gained on the molecular mechanisms underlying retinal cell fate specification. However, hitherto studies focused primarily on the six major retinal cell classes (five types of neurons of one type of glial cell), and paid little attention to the specification of different neuronal subtypes within the same cell class. In particular, the molecular machinery governing the specification of the two most abundant neurotransmitter phenotypes in the retina, GABAergic and glutamatergic, is largely unknown. In the spinal cord and cerebellum, the transcription factor Ptf1a is essential for GABAergic neuron production. In the mouse retina, Ptf1a has been shown to be involved in horizontal and most amacrine neurons differentiation.
In this study, we examined the distribution of neurotransmitter subtypes following Ptf1a gain and loss of function in the Xenopus retina. We found cell-autonomous dramatic switches between GABAergic and glutamatergic neuron production, concomitant with profound defects in the genesis of amacrine and horizontal cells, which are mainly GABAergic. Therefore, we investigated whether Ptf1a promotes the fate of these two cell types or acts directly as a GABAergic subtype determination factor. In ectodermal explant assays, Ptf1a was found to be a potent inducer of the GABAergic subtype. Moreover, clonal analysis in the retina revealed that Ptf1a overexpression leads to an increased ratio of GABAergic subtypes among the whole amacrine and horizontal cell population, highlighting its instructive capacity to promote this specific subtype of inhibitory neurons. Finally, we also found that within bipolar cells, which are typically glutamatergic interneurons, Ptf1a is able to trigger a GABAergic fate.
Altogether, our results reveal for the first time in the retina a major player in the GABAergic versus glutamatergic cell specification genetic pathway.
PMCID: PMC2212653  PMID: 17910758
8.  The Expression of irx7 in the Inner Nuclear Layer of Zebrafish Retina Is Essential for a Proper Retinal Development and Lamination 
PLoS ONE  2012;7(4):e36145.
Irx7, a member in the zebrafish iroquois transcription factor (TF) family, has been shown to control brain patterning. During retinal development, irx7's expression was found to appear exclusively in the inner nuclear layer (INL) as soon as the prospective INL cells withdraw from the cell cycle and during retinal lamination. In Irx7-deficient retinas, the formation of a proper retinal lamination was disrupted and the differentiation of INL cell types, including amacrine, horizontal, bipolar and Muller cells, was compromised. Despite irx7's exclusive expression in the INL, photoreceptors differentiation was also compromised in Irx7-deficient retinas. Compared with other retinal cell types, ganglion cells differentiated relatively well in these retinas, except for their dendritic projections into the inner plexiform layer (IPL). In fact, the neuronal projections of amacrine and bipolar cells into the IPL were also diminished. These indicate that the retinal lamination issue in the Irx7-deficient retinas is likely caused by the attenuation of the neurite outgrowth. Since the expression of known TFs that can specify specific retinal cell type was also altered in Irx7-deficient retinas, thus the irx7 gene network is possibly a novel regulatory circuit for retinal development and lamination.
PMCID: PMC3335143  PMID: 22540019
9.  MATH5 controls the acquisition of multiple retinal cell fates 
Molecular Brain  2010;3:36.
Math5-null mutation results in the loss of retinal ganglion cells (RGCs) and in a concurrent increase of amacrine and cone cells. However, it remains unclear whether there is a cell fate switch of Math5-lineage cells in the absence of Math5 and whether MATH5 cell-autonomously regulates the differentiation of the above retinal neurons. Here, we performed a lineage analysis of Math5-expressing cells in developing mouse retinas using a conditional GFP reporter (Z/EG) activated by a Math5-Cre knock-in allele. We show that during normal retinogenesis, Math5-lineage cells mostly develop into RGCs, horizontal cells, cone photoreceptors, rod photoreceptors, and amacrine cells. Interestingly, amacrine cells of Math5-lineage cells are predominately of GABAergic, cholinergic, and A2 subtypes, indicating that Math5 plays a role in amacrine subtype specification. In the absence of Math5, more Math5-lineage cells undergo cell fate conversion from RGCs to the above retinal cell subtypes, and occasionally to cone-bipolar cells and Müller cells. This change in cell fate choices is accompanied by an up-regulation of NEUROD1, RXRγ and BHLHB5, the transcription factors essential for the differentiation of retinal cells other than RGCs. Additionally, loss of Math5 causes the failure of early progenitors to exit cell cycle and leads to a significant increase of Math5-lineage cells remaining in cell cycle. Collectively, these data suggest that Math5 regulates the generation of multiple retinal cell types via different mechanisms during retinogenesis.
PMCID: PMC2994854  PMID: 21087508
10.  Adenosine A2A Receptor Up-Regulates Retinal Wave Frequency via Starburst Amacrine Cells in the Developing Rat Retina 
PLoS ONE  2014;9(4):e95090.
Developing retinas display retinal waves, the patterned spontaneous activity essential for circuit refinement. During the first postnatal week in rodents, retinal waves are mediated by synaptic transmission between starburst amacrine cells (SACs) and retinal ganglion cells (RGCs). The neuromodulator adenosine is essential for the generation of retinal waves. However, the cellular basis underlying adenosine's regulation of retinal waves remains elusive. Here, we investigated whether and how the adenosine A2A receptor (A2AR) regulates retinal waves and whether A2AR regulation of retinal waves acts via presynaptic SACs.
Methodology/Principal Findings
We showed that A2AR was expressed in the inner plexiform layer and ganglion cell layer of the developing rat retina. Knockdown of A2AR decreased the frequency of spontaneous Ca2+ transients, suggesting that endogenous A2AR may up-regulate wave frequency. To investigate whether A2AR acts via presynaptic SACs, we targeted gene expression to SACs by the metabotropic glutamate receptor type II promoter. Ca2+ transient frequency was increased by expressing wild-type A2AR (A2AR-WT) in SACs, suggesting that A2AR may up-regulate retinal waves via presynaptic SACs. Subsequent patch-clamp recordings on RGCs revealed that presynaptic A2AR-WT increased the frequency of wave-associated postsynaptic currents (PSCs) or depolarizations compared to the control, without changing the RGC's excitability, membrane potentials, or PSC charge. These findings suggest that presynaptic A2AR may not affect the membrane properties of postsynaptic RGCs. In contrast, by expressing the C-terminal truncated A2AR mutant (A2AR-ΔC) in SACs, the wave frequency was reduced compared to the A2AR-WT, but was similar to the control, suggesting that the full-length A2AR in SACs is required for A2AR up-regulation of retinal waves.
A2AR up-regulates the frequency of retinal waves via presynaptic SACs, requiring its full-length protein structure. Thus, by coupling with the downstream intracellular signaling, A2AR may have a great capacity to modulate patterned spontaneous activity during neural circuit refinement.
PMCID: PMC4002430  PMID: 24777042
11.  Role of ACh-GABA co-transmission in detecting image motion and motion direction 
Neuron  2010;68(6):1159-1172.
Starburst amacrine cells (SACs) process complex visual signals in the retina using both ACh and GABA, but the synaptic organization and function of ACh-GABA corelease remain unclear. Here, we show that SACs make cholinergic synapses onto On-Off direction-selective ganglion cells (DSGCs) from all directions, but make GABAergic synapses onto DSGCs only from the null direction. ACh and GABA were released differentially in a Ca2+ level-specific manner, suggesting the two transmitters were released from different vesicle populations. Despite the symmetric cholinergic connection, the light-evoked cholinergic input to a DSGC, detected at both light onset and offset, was motion- and direction-sensitive. This input was facilitated by two-spot apparent motion in the preferred direction, but supressed in the null direction, presumably by a GABAergic mechnism. The results revealed a new level of synaptic intricacy in the starburst circuit and suggest differential, yet synergistic, roles of ACh-GABA cotransmission in motion sensitivity and direction selectivity.
PMCID: PMC3094727  PMID: 21172616
12.  Ptf1a is expressed transiently in all types of amacrine cells in the embryonic zebrafish retina 
Neural Development  2009;4:34.
The vertebrate retina is composed of five major types of neurons: three excitatory (photoreceptors, bipolar cells and ganglion cells) and two inhibitory (horizontal and amacrine cells). The transcription factor Ptf1a (pancreas transcription factor 1a) is important for the normal development of the inhibitory retinal neurons.
Using a transgenic Ptf1a:GFP reporter and in situ hybridization in the zebrafish retina, we show that ptf1a message is transiently expressed in all amacrine and horizontal cells within hours after the terminal division of multipotent progenitors at the apical surface of the retinal neuroepithelium, and remains on as these cells migrate to their final laminar location. The message then shuts off, but we can follow the stable Ptf1a:GFP protein for up to 120 hours post-fertilization. A variety of anatomically and neurochemically distinct subtypes of amacrine cells can already be distinguished at this embryonic time point.
The timing of Ptf1a expression suggests that it is involved in the very early stages or steps in the differentiation of amacrine cells, which, due to the perdurance of the Ptf1a:GFP, can be seen to rapidly diversify into a large number of subtypes. This work sets the stage for future studies looking at genetic specification of amacrine subtypes.
PMCID: PMC2746205  PMID: 19732413
13.  Lack of the Sodium-Driven Chloride Bicarbonate Exchanger NCBE Impairs Visual Function in the Mouse Retina 
PLoS ONE  2012;7(10):e46155.
Regulation of ion and pH homeostasis is essential for normal neuronal function. The sodium-driven chloride bicarbonate exchanger NCBE (Slc4a10), a member of the SLC4 family of bicarbonate transporters, uses the transmembrane gradient of sodium to drive cellular net uptake of bicarbonate and to extrude chloride, thereby modulating both intracellular pH (pHi) and chloride concentration ([Cl−]i) in neurons. Here we show that NCBE is strongly expressed in the retina. As GABAA receptors conduct both chloride and bicarbonate, we hypothesized that NCBE may be relevant for GABAergic transmission in the retina. Importantly, we found a differential expression of NCBE in bipolar cells: whereas NCBE was expressed on ON and OFF bipolar cell axon terminals, it only localized to dendrites of OFF bipolar cells. On these compartments, NCBE colocalized with the main neuronal chloride extruder KCC2, which renders GABA hyperpolarizing. NCBE was also expressed in starburst amacrine cells, but was absent from neurons known to depolarize in response to GABA, like horizontal cells. Mice lacking NCBE showed decreased visual acuity and contrast sensitivity in behavioral experiments and smaller b-wave amplitudes and longer latencies in electroretinograms. Ganglion cells from NCBE-deficient mice also showed altered temporal response properties. In summary, our data suggest that NCBE may serve to maintain intracellular chloride and bicarbonate concentration in retinal neurons. Consequently, lack of NCBE in the retina may result in changes in pHi regulation and chloride-dependent inhibition, leading to altered signal transmission and impaired visual function.
PMCID: PMC3467262  PMID: 23056253
14.  GABAA Receptors Containing the α2 Subunit Are Critical for Direction-Selective Inhibition in the Retina 
PLoS ONE  2012;7(4):e35109.
Far from being a simple sensor, the retina actively participates in processing visual signals. One of the best understood aspects of this processing is the detection of motion direction. Direction-selective (DS) retinal circuits include several subtypes of ganglion cells (GCs) and inhibitory interneurons, such as starburst amacrine cells (SACs). Recent studies demonstrated a surprising complexity in the arrangement of synapses in the DS circuit, i.e. between SACs and DS ganglion cells. Thus, to fully understand retinal DS mechanisms, detailed knowledge of all synaptic elements involved, particularly the nature and localization of neurotransmitter receptors, is needed. Since inhibition from SACs onto DSGCs is crucial for generating retinal direction selectivity, we investigate here the nature of the GABA receptors mediating this interaction. We found that in the inner plexiform layer (IPL) of mouse and rabbit retina, GABAA receptor subunit α2 (GABAAR α2) aggregated in synaptic clusters along two bands overlapping the dendritic plexuses of both ON and OFF SACs. On distal dendrites of individually labeled SACs in rabbit, GABAAR α2 was aligned with the majority of varicosities, the cell's output structures, and found postsynaptically on DSGC dendrites, both in the ON and OFF portion of the IPL. In GABAAR α2 knock-out (KO) mice, light responses of retinal GCs recorded with two-photon calcium imaging revealed a significant impairment of DS responses compared to their wild-type littermates. We observed a dramatic drop in the proportion of cells exhibiting DS phenotype in both the ON and ON-OFF populations, which strongly supports our anatomical findings that α2-containing GABAARs are critical for mediating retinal DS inhibition. Our study reveals for the first time, to the best of our knowledge, the precise functional localization of a specific receptor subunit in the retinal DS circuit.
PMCID: PMC3323634  PMID: 22506070
15.  Mitosis in Neurons: Roughex and APC/C Maintain Cell Cycle Exit to Prevent Cytokinetic and Axonal Defects in Drosophila Photoreceptor Neurons 
PLoS Genetics  2012;8(11):e1003049.
The mechanisms of cell cycle exit by neurons remain poorly understood. Through genetic and developmental analysis of Drosophila eye development, we found that the cyclin-dependent kinase-inhibitor Roughex maintains G1 cell cycle exit during differentiation of the R8 class of photoreceptor neurons. The roughex mutant neurons re-enter the mitotic cell cycle and progress without executing cytokinesis, unlike non-neuronal cells in the roughex mutant that perform complete cell divisions. After mitosis, the binucleated R8 neurons usually transport one daughter nucleus away from the cell body into the developing axon towards the brain in a kinesin-dependent manner resembling anterograde axonal trafficking. Similar cell cycle and photoreceptor neuron defects occurred in mutants for components of the Anaphase Promoting Complex/Cyclosome. These findings indicate a neuron-specific defect in cytokinesis and demonstrate a critical role for mitotic cyclin downregulation both to maintain cell cycle exit during neuronal differentiation and to prevent axonal defects following failed cytokinesis.
Author Summary
Neurons generally differentiate and never divide again. One barrier to understanding the mechanisms has been the paucity of genetic mutations that result in neuronal cell cycles. Here we show that mutation in three genes lead to cell cycle re-entry by a particular class of developing photoreceptor neurons in the fly retina. Strikingly, these neurons do not complete cell division but only divide their nuclei. The binucleated neurons then typically retain one nucleus in its normal location in the cell body, while transporting the other into the growing axon like other axonal material. Our findings identify Cyclin A regulation as crucial to maintaining cell cycle exit by at least some neurons and identify a neuron-specific defect in cell division as a further barrier to neuron proliferation. Because defects in transporting axonal material have been implicated in the origin of multiple neurodegenerative diseases, our findings also suggest a possible connection between defective cell cycle regulation and neuronal cell death.
PMCID: PMC3510051  PMID: 23209426
16.  Cell Size Checkpoint Control by the Retinoblastoma Tumor Suppressor Pathway 
PLoS Genetics  2006;2(10):e167.
Size control is essential for all proliferating cells, and is thought to be regulated by checkpoints that couple cell size to cell cycle progression. The aberrant cell-size phenotypes caused by mutations in the retinoblastoma (RB) tumor suppressor pathway are consistent with a role in size checkpoint control, but indirect effects on size caused by altered cell cycle kinetics are difficult to rule out. The multiple fission cell cycle of the unicellular alga Chlamydomonas reinhardtii uncouples growth from division, allowing direct assessment of the relationship between size phenotypes and checkpoint function. Mutations in the C. reinhardtii RB homolog encoded by MAT3 cause supernumerous cell divisions and small cells, suggesting a role for MAT3 in size control. We identified suppressors of an mat3 null allele that had recessive mutations in DP1 or dominant mutations in E2F1, loci encoding homologs of a heterodimeric transcription factor that is targeted by RB-related proteins. Significantly, we determined that the dp1 and e2f1 phenotypes were caused by defects in size checkpoint control and were not due to a lengthened cell cycle. Despite their cell division defects, mat3, dp1, and e2f1 mutants showed almost no changes in periodic transcription of genes induced during S phase and mitosis, many of which are conserved targets of the RB pathway. Conversely, we found that regulation of cell size was unaffected when S phase and mitotic transcription were inhibited. Our data provide direct evidence that the RB pathway mediates cell size checkpoint control and suggest that such control is not directly coupled to the magnitude of periodic cell cycle transcription.
All cell types have a characteristic size, but the means by which cell size is determined remain mysterious. In proliferating cells, control mechanisms termed checkpoints are thought to prevent cells from dividing until they have reached a minimum size, but the nature of size checkpoints has proved difficult to dissect. The unicellular alga Chlamydomonas reinhardtii divides via an unusual mechanism that uncouples growth from division, and thereby allows a direct assessment of how different genetic pathways contribute to size control. The retinoblastoma (RB) tumor suppressor pathway is a critical regulator of cell cycle control in plants and animals and is thought to act as a transcriptional switch for cell cycle genes, but it had not been directly implicated in cell size checkpoint function. The authors found that mutations in genes that encode key proteins of the RB pathway in Chlamydomonas affect cell size and cell cycle control by altering size checkpoint function. Unexpectedly, the predicted transcriptional targets of the RB pathway were not affected by the mutations, and blocking transcription did not alter cell size control. These data link the RB tumor suppressor pathway directly to size control and suggest the possibility that cell size and cell cycle control by the RB pathway may not be coupled to its transcriptional output.
PMCID: PMC1599770  PMID: 17040130
17.  A Reaction-Diffusion Model of Cholinergic Retinal Waves 
PLoS Computational Biology  2014;10(12):e1003953.
Prior to receiving visual stimuli, spontaneous, correlated activity in the retina, called retinal waves, drives activity-dependent developmental programs. Early-stage waves mediated by acetylcholine (ACh) manifest as slow, spreading bursts of action potentials. They are believed to be initiated by the spontaneous firing of Starburst Amacrine Cells (SACs), whose dense, recurrent connectivity then propagates this activity laterally. Their inter-wave interval and shifting wave boundaries are the result of the slow after-hyperpolarization of the SACs creating an evolving mosaic of recruitable and refractory cells, which can and cannot participate in waves, respectively. Recent evidence suggests that cholinergic waves may be modulated by the extracellular concentration of ACh. Here, we construct a simplified, biophysically consistent, reaction-diffusion model of cholinergic retinal waves capable of recapitulating wave dynamics observed in mice retina recordings. The dense, recurrent connectivity of SACs is modeled through local, excitatory coupling occurring via the volume release and diffusion of ACh. In addition to simulation, we are thus able to use non-linear wave theory to connect wave features to underlying physiological parameters, making the model useful in determining appropriate pharmacological manipulations to experimentally produce waves of a prescribed spatiotemporal character. The model is used to determine how ACh mediated connectivity may modulate wave activity, and how parameters such as the spontaneous activation rate and sAHP refractory period contribute to critical wave size variability.
Author Summary
Both within the visual system and more generally, two general processes describe nervous system development: first, genetically determined cues provide a coarse layout of cells and connections and second, neuronal activity removes unwanted cells and refines connections. This activity occurs not just through external stimulation, but also through correlated, spontaneously generated bursts of action potentials occurring in hyper-excitable regions of the developing nervous system prior to external stimulation. Spontaneous activity has been implicated in the maturation of many neural circuits, however exactly which features are important for this purpose is largely unknown. In order to help address this question we construct a mathematical model to understand the spatiotemporal patterns of spontaneously driven activity in the developing retina. This activity is known as retinal waves. We describe a simplified, biophysically consistent, reaction-diffusion model of cholinergic retinal waves capable of recapitulating wave dynamics observed in mice retina recordings. This novel reaction-diffusion formulation allows us to connect wave features to underlying physiological parameters. In particular this approach is used to determine which features of the system are responsible for wave propagation and for the spatiotemporal patterns of propagating waves observed in both mice and other species.
PMCID: PMC4256014  PMID: 25474327
18.  E2f2 induces cone photoreceptor apoptosis independent of E2f1 and E2f3 
Cell Death and Differentiation  2013;20(7):931-940.
The ‘activating' E2fs (E2f1-3) are transcription factors that potently induce quiescent cells to divide. Work on cultured fibroblasts suggested they were essential for division, but in vivo analysis in the developing retina and other tissues disproved this notion. The retina, therefore, is an ideal location to assess other in vivo adenovirus E2 promoter binding factor (E2f) functions. It is thought that E2f1 directly induces apoptosis, whereas other activating E2fs only induce death indirectly by upregulating E2f1 expression. Indeed, mouse retinoblastoma (Rb)-null retinal neuron death requires E2f1, but not E2f2 or E2f3. However, we report an entirely distinct mechanism in dying cone photoreceptors. These neurons survive Rb loss, but undergo apoptosis in the cancer-prone retina lacking both Rb and its relative p107. We show that while E2f1 killed Rb/p107 null rod, bipolar and ganglion neurons, E2f2 was required and sufficient for cone death, independent of E2f1 and E2f3. Moreover, whereas E2f1-dependent apoptosis was p53 and p73-independent, E2f2 caused p53-dependent cone death. Our in vivo analysis of cone photoreceptors provides unequivocal proof that E2f-induces apoptosis independent of E2f1, and reveals distinct E2f1- and E2f2-activated death pathways in response to a single tumorigenic insult.
PMCID: PMC3679457  PMID: 23558950
retinoblastoma; E2f; p53; cone photoreceptor; retina
19.  Two Distinct Types of ON Directionally Selective Ganglion Cells in the Rabbit Retina 
The Journal of Comparative Neurology  2011;519(13):2509-2521.
Mammalian retinas contain about 20 types of ganglion cells that respond to different aspects of the visual scene, including the direction of motion of objects in the visual field. The rabbit retina has long been thought to contain two distinct types of directionally selective (DS) ganglion cell: a bistratified ON-OFF DS ganglion cell that responds to onset and termination of light, and an ON DS ganglion cell, which stratifies only in the ON layer and responds only to light onset. This division is challenged by targeted recordings from rabbit retina, which indicate that ON DS ganglion cells occur in two discriminably different types. One of these is strongly tracer-coupled to amacrine cells; the other is never tracer-coupled. These two types also differ in branching pattern, stratification depth, relative latency, and transience of spiking. The sustained, uncoupled ON DS cell ramifies completely within the lower cholinergic band and responds to nicotine with continuous firing. In contrast, the transient, coupled ON DS ganglion cell stratifies above the cholinergic band and is not positioned to receive major input from cholinergic amacrine cells, consistent with its modest response to the cholinergic agonist nicotine. Much data have accrued that directional responses in the mammalian retina originate via gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA) release from the dendrites of starburst amacrine cells (Euler et al., 2002). If there is an ON DS ganglion cell that does not stratify in the starburst band, this suggests that its GABA-dependent directional signals may be generated by a mechanism independent of starburst amacrine cells.
PMCID: PMC3265025  PMID: 21618235
bipolar cell; amacrine cell; gap junction
20.  Islet-1 Controls the Differentiation of Retinal Bipolar and Cholinergic Amacrine Cells 
Whereas the mammalian retina possesses a repertoire of factors known to establish general retinal cell types, these factors alone cannot explain the vast diversity of neuronal subtypes. In other CNS regions, the differentiation of diverse neuronal pools is governed by coordinately acting LIM-homeodomain proteins including the Islet-class factor Islet-1 (Isl1). We report that deletion of Isl1 profoundly disrupts retinal function as assessed by electroretinograms and vision as assessed by optomotor behavior. These deficits are coupled with marked reductions in mature ON- and OFF-bipolar (>76%), cholinergic amacrine (93%), and ganglion (71%) cells. Mosaic deletion of Isl1 permitted a chimeric analysis of “wild-type” cells in a predominantly Isl1-null environment, demonstrating a cell-autonomous role for Isl1 in rod bipolar and cholinergic amacrine development. Furthermore, the effects on bipolar cell development appear to be dissociable from the preceding retinal ganglion cell loss, because Pou4f2-null mice are devoid of similar defects in bipolar cell marker expression. Expression of the ON- and OFF-bipolar cell differentiation factors Bhlhb4 and Vsx1, respectively, requires the presence of Isl1, whereas the early bipolar cell marker Prox1 initially did not. Thus, Isl1 is required for engaging bipolar differentiation pathways but not for general bipolar cell specification. Spatiotemporal expression analysis of additional LIM-homeobox genes identifies a LIM-homeobox gene network during bipolar cell development that includes Lhx3 and Lhx4. We conclude that Isl1 has an indispensable role in retinal neuron differentiation within restricted cell populations and this function may reflect a broader role for other LIM-homeobox genes in retinal development, and perhaps in establishing neuronal subtypes.
PMCID: PMC2972590  PMID: 18003851
retina; retinal bipolar cell; transcription factor; differentiation; ERG (electroretinogram); optomotor behavior; amacrine; retinal ganglion cell
21.  Long-term survival and differentiation of retinal neurons derived from human embryonic stem cell lines in un-immunosuppressed mouse retina 
Molecular Vision  2012;18:920-936.
To examine the potential of NIH-maintained human embryonic stem cell (hESC) lines TE03 and UC06 to differentiate into retinal progenitor cells (hESC-RPCs) using the noggin/Dkk-1/IGF-1/FGF9 protocol. An additional goal is to examine the in vivo dynamics of maturation and retinal integration of subretinal and epiretinal (vitreous space) hESC-RPC grafts without immunosuppression.
hESCs were neuralized in vitro with noggin for 2 weeks and expanded to derive neuroepithelial cells (hESC-neural precursors, NPs). Wnt (Integration 1 and wingless) blocking morphogens Dickkopf-1 (Dkk-1) and Insulin-like growth factor 1 (IGF-1) were used to direct NPs to a rostral neural fate, and fibroblast growth factor 9 (FGF9)/fibroblast growth factor-basic (bFGF) were added to bias the differentiation of developing anterior neuroectoderm cells to neural retina (NR) rather than retinal pigment epithelium (RPE). Cells were dissociated and grafted into the subretinal and epiretinal space of young adult (4–6-week-old) mice (C57BL/6J x129/Sv mixed background). Remaining cells were replated for (i) immunocytochemical analysis and (ii) used for quantitative reverse transcription polymerase chain reaction (qRT–PCR) analysis. Mice were sacrificed 3 weeks or 3 months after grafting, and the grafts were examined by histology and immunohistochemistry for survival of hESC-RPCs, presence of mature neuronal and retinal markers, and the dynamics of in vivo maturation and integration into the host retina.
At the time of grafting, hESC-RPCs exhibited immature neural/neuronal immunophenotypes represented by nestin and neuronal class III β-tubulin, with about half of the cells positive for cell proliferation marker Kiel University -raised antibody number 67 (Ki67), and no recoverin-positive (recoverin [+]) cells. The grafted cells expressed eye field markers paired box 6 (PAX6), retina and anterior neural fold homeobox (RAX), sine oculis homeobox homolog 6 (SIX6), LIM homeobox 2 (LHX2), early NR markers (Ceh-10 homeodomain containing homolog [CHX10], achaete-scute complex homolog 1 [MASH1], mouse atonal homolog 5 [MATH5], neurogenic differentiation 1 [NEUROD1]), and some retinal cell fate markers (brain-specific homeobox/POU domain transcription factor 3B [BRN3B], prospero homeobox 1 [PROX1], and recoverin). The cells in the subretinal grafts matured to predominantly recoverin [+] phenotype by 3 months and survived in a xenogenic environment without immunosuppression as long as the blood–retinal barrier was not breached by the transplantation procedure. The epiretinal grafts survived but did not express markers of mature retinal cells. Retinal integration into the retinal ganglion cell (RGC) layer and the inner nuclear layer (INL) was efficient from the epiretinal but not subretinal grafts. The subretinal grafts showed limited ability to structurally integrate into the host retina and only in cases when NR was damaged during grafting. Only limited synaptogenesis and no tumorigenicity was observed in grafts.
Our studies show that (i) immunosuppression is not mandatory to xenogenic graft survival in the retina, (ii) the subretinal but not the epiretinal niche can promote maturation of hESC-RPCs to photoreceptors, and (iii) the hESC-RPCs from epiretinal but not subretinal grafts can efficiently integrate into the RGC layer and INL. The latter could be of value for long-lasting neuroprotection of retina in some degenerative conditions and glaucoma. Overall, our results provide new insights into the technical aspects associated with cell-based therapy in the retina.
PMCID: PMC3335781  PMID: 22539871
22.  An isoform of retinoid-related orphan receptor β directs differentiation of retinal amacrine and horizontal interneurons 
Nature communications  2013;4:1813.
Amacrine and horizontal interneurons integrate visual information as it is relayed through the retina from the photoreceptors to the ganglion cells. The early steps that generate these interneuron networks remain unclear. Here we show that a distinct RORβ1 isoform encoded by the retinoid-related orphan nuclear receptor β gene (Rorb) is critical for both amacrine and horizontal cell differentiation in mice. A fluorescent protein cassette targeted into Rorb revealed RORβ1 as a novel marker of immature amacrine and horizontal cells and of undifferentiated, dividing progenitor cells. RORβ1-deficient mice lose expression of pancreas-specific transcription factor 1a (Ptf1a) but retain forkhead box n4 factor (Foxn4), two early-acting factors necessary for amacrine and horizontal cell generation. RORβ1 and Foxn4 synergistically induce Ptf1a expression, suggesting a central role for RORβ1 in a transcriptional hierarchy that directs this interneuron differentiation pathway. Moreover, ectopic RORβ1 expression in neonatal retina promotes amacrine cell differentiation.
PMCID: PMC3671912  PMID: 23652001
orphan nuclear receptor; forkhead box transcription factor Foxn4; basic helix-loop-helix factor Ptf1a; neurogenesis; inhibitory interneuron
23.  Bhlhb5 is Required for the Subtype Development of Retinal Amacrine and Bipolar Cells in Mice 
BHLHB5, an OLIG-related basic helix-loop-helix transcription factor, is required for the development of a subset of gamma-amino butyric acid–releasing (GABAergic) amacrine cells and OFF-cone bipolar (CB) cells in mouse retinas. In order to determine BHLHB5’s functional mechanism in retinogenesis, we used the Cre-loxP recombination system to genetically trace the lineage of BHLHB5+ cells in normal and Bhlhb5-null retinas. The Bhlhb5-Cre knock-in allele was used to activate the constitutive expression of a GFP reporter in the Bhlhb5-expressing cells, and the cell fates of Bhlhb5-lineage cells were identified by using specific cell markers and were compared between normal and Bhlhb5-null retinas.
In addition to GABAergic amacrine and OFF-CB cells, Bhlhb5 lineage cells give rise to ganglion, glycinergic amacrine, rod bipolar, ON-bipolar, and rod photoreceptor cells during normal retinal development. Targeted deletion of Bhlhb5 resulted in the loss of GABAergic amacrine, glycinergic amacrine, dopaminergic amacrine, and Type 2 OFF-CB cells. Furthermore, in the absence of BHLHB5, a portion of Bhlhb5 lineage cells switch their fate and differentiate into cholinergic amacrine cells.
Our data reveal a broad expression pattern of Bhlhb5 throughout retinogenesis and demonstrate the cell-autonomous as well as non-cell-autonomous role of Bhlhb5 in the specification of amacrine and bipolar subtypes.
PMCID: PMC4100943  PMID: 24123365
Bhlhb5; amacrine cell; bipolar cell; neurogenesis; transcription factor; retina
24.  Characterization of Müller glia and neuronal progenitors during adult zebrafish retinal regeneration 
Experimental eye research  2008;87(5):433-444.
The adult zebrafish retina exhibits a robust regenerative response following light-induced photoreceptor cell death. This response is initiated by the Müller glia proliferating in the inner nuclear layer (INL), which gives rise to neuronal progenitor cells that continue to divide and migrate to the outer nuclear layer (ONL), where they differentiate into rod and cone photoreceptors. We previously conducted a microarray analysis of retinal gene expression at 16, 31, 51, 68, and 96 hours of constant intense-light treatment to identify genes and their corresponding proteins that may be involved in the generation and proliferation of the neuronal progenitor cells. We examined the expression of two candidate transcription factors, Pax6 and Ngn1, and one candidate transgene, olig2:EGFP, in the regenerating light-damaged retina. We compared the temporal and spatial expression patterns of these markers relative to PCNA (proliferating cell nuclear antigen), an established marker for proliferating cells in the zebrafish retina, and the Tg(gfap:EGFP)nt11 transgenic line that specifically labels Müller glial cells. We found that Müller glial cells dedifferentiate during regeneration, based on the loss of cell-specific markers such as GFAP (glial fibrillary acidic protein) and glutamine synthetase following their reentry into the cell cycle to produce neuronal progenitors. Pax6 expression was first detected in the proliferating neuronal progenitors by 51 hours of constant light treatment, which is significantly after the Müller glia first reenter the cell cycle after 31 hours of light. This suggests that Pax6 expression increases in neuronal progenitors, rather than in the proliferating Müller glia. EGFP expression from the olig2 promoter was first detected by 68 hours of constant light treatment in the dedifferentiated Müller glia, with Pax6 expressed in the closely-associated proliferating neuronal progenitors migrating to the ONL. Both Pax6 and olig2 expression persisted until three days post light-treatment, when the neuronal progenitors begin differentiating into new rod and cone photoreceptors. Ngn1 protein expression was initially detected in proliferating neuronal progenitors at 68 hours of light treatment. However, Ngn1 expression persisted in a subset of the INL nuclei until 17 days post-light treatment. Using the Tg(gfap:EGFP)nt11 transgenic line, Ngn1 was localized to the Müller glial nuclei that were reestablished following the regenerative response. These markers, therefore, can be used to identify different cell types at particular stages of retinal regeneration: neuronal progenitor formation, proliferation, and the reestablishment of the Müller glia cells. These markers will be important to further characterize the regeneration response in other retinal damage models and to elucidate the defects associated with mutants and morphants that disrupt the regeneration response.
PMCID: PMC2586672  PMID: 18718467
Pax6; Ngn1; Olig2; retinal regeneration; Müller glia; neuronal progenitor; stem cells; photoreceptor degeneration
25.  Zac1 functions through TGFβII to negatively regulate cell number in the developing retina 
Neural Development  2007;2:11.
Organs are programmed to acquire a particular size during development, but the regulatory mechanisms that dictate when dividing progenitor cells should permanently exit the cell cycle and stop producing additional daughter cells are poorly understood. In differentiated tissues, tumor suppressor genes maintain a constant cell number and intact tissue architecture by controlling proliferation, apoptosis and cell dispersal. Here we report a similar role for two tumor suppressor genes, the Zac1 zinc finger transcription factor and that encoding the cytokine TGFβII, in the developing retina.
Using loss and gain-of-function approaches, we show that Zac1 is an essential negative regulator of retinal size. Zac1 mutants develop hypercellular retinae due to increased progenitor cell proliferation and reduced apoptosis at late developmental stages. Consequently, supernumerary rod photoreceptors and amacrine cells are generated, the latter of which form an ectopic cellular layer, while other retinal cells are present in their normal number and location. Strikingly, Zac1 functions as a direct negative regulator of a rod fate, while acting cell non-autonomously to modulate amacrine cell number. We implicate TGFβII, another tumor suppressor and cytokine, as a Zac1-dependent amacrine cell negative feedback signal. TGFβII and phospho-Smad2/3, its downstream effector, are expressed at reduced levels in Zac1 mutant retinae, and exogenous TGFβII relieves the mutant amacrine cell phenotype. Moreover, treatment of wild-type retinae with a soluble TGFβ inhibitor and TGFβ receptor II (TGFβRII) conditional mutants generate excess amacrine cells, phenocopying the Zac1 mutant phenotype.
We show here that Zac1 has an essential role in cell number control during retinal development, akin to its role in tumor surveillance in mature tissues. Furthermore, we demonstrate that Zac1 employs a novel cell non-autonomous strategy to regulate amacrine cell number, acting in cooperation with a second tumor suppressor gene, TGFβII, through a negative feedback pathway. This raises the intriguing possibility that tumorigenicity may also be associated with the loss of feedback inhibition in mature tissues.
PMCID: PMC1913510  PMID: 17559664

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