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1.  A Synaptic Mechanism for Temporal Filtering of Visual Signals 
PLoS Biology  2014;12(10):e1001972.
Synaptic volume matters! The size of the presynaptic compartment of retinal bipolar cells controls the amplitude, speed, and adaptation of synaptic transmission.
The visual system transmits information about fast and slow changes in light intensity through separate neural pathways. We used in vivo imaging to investigate how bipolar cells transmit these signals to the inner retina. We found that the volume of the synaptic terminal is an intrinsic property that contributes to different temporal filters. Individual cells transmit through multiple terminals varying in size, but smaller terminals generate faster and larger calcium transients to trigger vesicle release with higher initial gain, followed by more profound adaptation. Smaller terminals transmitted higher stimulus frequencies more effectively. Modeling global calcium dynamics triggering vesicle release indicated that variations in the volume of presynaptic compartments contribute directly to all these differences in response dynamics. These results indicate how one neuron can transmit different temporal components in the visual signal through synaptic terminals of varying geometries with different adaptational properties.
Author Summary
The process of neurotransmission involves the conversion of electrical signals into the release of a chemical neurotransmitter from the neurons synaptic terminal, and the key trigger for this release is a rise in calcium concentration. Accordingly, the amplitude and speed of this calcium signal controls the amplitude and time-course of synaptic communication. Working on the synaptic terminals of fish retinal bipolar cells, we show that the presynaptic calcium signal and the subsequent neurotransmitter release are shaped by the basic property of synapse volume. Using a combination of experimental approaches and computational models, we found that large synapses are slow and adapt little during ongoing stimulation, while small synapses are fast and show more profound adaptation. This observation leads to a second key concept: since neurons usually have several presynaptic terminals that may vary in volume, a single neuron can, in principle, forward different synaptic signals to different postsynaptic partners. We provide direct evidence that this is the case for bipolar cells of the fish retina.
PMCID: PMC4205119  PMID: 25333637
2.  Zebrafish Tg(7.2mab21l2:EGFP)ucd2 Transgenics Reveal a Unique Population of Retinal Amacrine Cells 
Amacrine cells constitute a diverse, yet poorly characterized, cell population in the inner retina. Here, the authors sought to characterize the morphology, molecular physiology, and electrophysiology of a subpopulation of EGFP-expressing retinal amacrine cells identified in a novel zebrafish transgenic line.
After 7.2 kb of the zebrafish mab21l2 promoter was cloned upstream of EGFP, it was used to create the Tg(7.2mab21l2:EGFP)ucd2 transgenic line. Transgenic EGFP expression was analyzed by fluorescence microscopy in whole mount embryos, followed by detailed analysis of EGFP-expressing amacrine cells using fluorescence microscopy, immunohistochemistry, and electrophysiology.
A 7.2-kb fragment of the mab21l2 promoter region is sufficient to drive transgene expression in the developing lens and tectum. Intriguingly, EGFP was also observed in differentiated amacrine cells. EGFP-labeled amacrine cells in Tg(7.2mab21l2:EGFP)ucd2 constitute a novel GABA- and glycine-negative amacrine subpopulation. Morphologically, EGFP-expressing cells stratify in sublamina 1 to 2 (type 1 OFF) or sublamina 3 to 4 (type 1 ON) or branch diffusely (type 2). Electrophysiologically, these cells segregate into amacrine cells with somas in the vitreal part of the INL and linear responses to current injection or, alternatively, amacrine cells with somas proximal to the IPL and active oscillatory voltage signals.
The novel transgenic line Tg(7.2mab21l2:EGFP) ucd2 uncovers a unique subpopulation of retinal amacrine cells.
PMCID: PMC3925879  PMID: 21051702
3.  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
4.  In vivo evidence that retinal bipolar cells generate spikes modulated by light 
Nature neuroscience  2011;14(8):951-952.
Retinal bipolar cells have been assumed to generate purely graded responses to light. To test this idea we imaged the presynaptic calcium transient in live zebrafish. We found that ON, OFF, transient and sustained bipolar cells are all capable of generating fast “all-or-none” calcium transients modulated by visual stimulation.
PMCID: PMC3232443  PMID: 21706020
5.  Spikes in Retinal Bipolar Cells Phase-Lock to Visual Stimuli with Millisecond Precision 
Current Biology  2011;21(22):1859-1869.
The conversion of an analog stimulus into the digital form of spikes is a fundamental step in encoding sensory information. Here, we investigate this transformation in the visual system of fish by in vivo calcium imaging and electrophysiology of retinal bipolar cells, which have been assumed to be purely graded neurons.
Synapses of all major classes of retinal bipolar cell encode visual information by using a combination of spikes and graded signals. Spikes are triggered within the synaptic terminal and, although sparse, phase-lock to a stimulus with a jitter as low as 2–3 ms. Spikes in bipolar cells encode a visual stimulus less reliably than spikes in ganglion cells but with similar temporal precision. The spike-generating mechanism does not alter the temporal filtering of a stimulus compared with the generator potential. The amplitude of the graded component of the presynaptic calcium signal can vary in time, and small fluctuations in resting membrane potential alter spike frequency and even switch spiking on and off.
In the retina of fish, the millisecond precision of spike coding begins in the synaptic terminal of bipolar cells. This neural compartment regulates the frequency of digital signals transmitted to the inner retina as well as the strength of graded signals.
Graphical Abstract
► The spike code of vision begins in retinal bipolar cells ► Spikes in bipolar cells phase-lock to visual stimuli with millisecond precision ► Spiking and graded calcium signals can switch on and off at individual synapses ► Spikes in bipolar cells encode a stimulus less reliably than spikes in ganglion cells
PMCID: PMC3235547  PMID: 22055291

Results 1-5 (5)