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J Neurosci. 2011 Nov 2;31(44):16033-44. doi: 10.1523/JNEUROSCI.3580-11.2011.

Age-related alterations in neurons of the mouse retina.

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  • 1Department of Molecular and Cellular Biology and Center for Brain Science, Harvard University, Cambridge, Massachusetts 02138, USA.

Abstract

The behavioral consequences of age-related alterations in neural function are well documented, but less is known about their cellular bases. To characterize such changes, we analyzed 14 molecularly identified subsets of mouse retinal projection neurons (retinal ganglion cells or RGCs) and interneurons (amacrine, bipolar, and horizontal cells). The retina thinned but expanded with age, maintaining its volume. There was minimal decline in the number of RGCs, interneurons, or photoreceptors, but the diameter of RGC dendritic arbors decreased with age. Together, the increased retinal area and the decreased dendritic area may lead to gaps in RGC coverage of the visual field. Axonal arbors of RGCs in the superior colliculus also atrophied with age, suggesting that the relay of visual information to central targets may decline over time. On the other hand, the laminar restriction of RGC dendrites and the interneuronal processes that synapse on them were not detectably disturbed, and RGC subtypes exhibited distinct electrophysiological responses to complex visual stimuli. Other neuronal types aged in different ways: amacrine cell arbors did not remodel detectably, whereas horizontal cell processes sprouted into the photoreceptor layer. Bipolar cells showed arbor-specific alterations: their dendrites sprouted but their axons remained stable. In summary, retinal neurons exhibited numerous age-related quantitative alterations (decreased areas of dendritic and axonal arbors and decreased density of cells and synapses), whereas their qualitative features (molecular identity, laminar specificity, and feature detection) were largely preserved. Together, these data reveal selective age-related alterations in neural circuitry, some of which could underlie declines in visual acuity.

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