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J Neurosci. 2009 Jul 15;29(28):8875-83. doi: 10.1523/JNEUROSCI.0912-09.2009.

ON inputs to the OFF layer: bipolar cells that break the stratification rules of the retina.

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Department of Ophthalmology and Visual Science, University of Texas at Houston, Houston, Texas 77030, USA.


The vertebrate retina is a distinctly laminar structure. Functionally, the inner plexiform layer, in which bipolar cells synapse onto amacrine and ganglion cells, is subdivided into two sublaminae. Cells that depolarize at light offset ramify in sublamina a; those that depolarize at light onset ramify in sublamina b. The separation of ON and OFF pathways appears to be a fundamental principle of retinal organization that is reflected throughout the entire visual system. We show three clear exceptions to this rule, in which the axons of calbindin-positive ON cone bipolar cells make ribbon synapses as they pass through the OFF layers with three separate cell types: (1) dopaminergic amacrine cells, (2) intrinsically photosensitive ganglion cells, and (3) bistratified diving ganglion cells. The postsynaptic location of the AMPA receptor GluR4 at these sites suggests that ON bipolar cells can make functional synapses as their axons pass through the OFF layers of the inner plexiform layer. These findings resolve a long-standing question regarding the anomalous ON inputs to dopaminergic amacrine cells and suggest that certain ON bipolar cell axons can break the stratification rules of the inner plexiform layer by providing significant synaptic output before their terminal specializations. These outputs are not only to dopaminergic amacrine cells but also to at least two ON ganglion cell types that have dendrites that arborize in sublamina a.

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