Structure and functional connections of presynaptic terminals in the vertebrate retina revealed by activity-dependent dyes and confocal microscopy

J Comp Neurol. 2001 Aug 20;437(2):129-55. doi: 10.1002/cne.1275.


The fluorescent dyes sulforhodamine 101 (SR 101) and FM1-43 were used as activity-dependent dyes (ADDs) to label presynaptic terminals in the retinas of a broad range of animals, including amphibians, mammals, fish, and turtles. The pattern of dye uptake was studied in live retinal preparations by using brightfield, fluorescence, and confocal microscopy. When bath-applied to the retina-eyecup, these dyes were avidly sequestered by the presynaptic terminals of virtually all rods, cones, and bipolar and amacrine cells; ganglion cell dendrites and horizontal cells lacked significant dye accumulation. Other structures stained with these dyes included pigment epithelial cells, cone outer segments, and Müller cell end-feet. Studies of dye uptake in dark- and light-adapted preparations showed significant differences in the dye accumulation pattern in the inner plexiform layer (IPL), suggesting a dynamic, light-modulated control of endocytotic activity. Presynaptic terminals in the IPL could be segregated on the basis of volume: bipolar varicosities in the IPL were typically larger than those of amacrine cells. The combination of retrograde labeling of ganglion cells and presynaptic terminal labeling with ADDs served as the experimental preparation for three-dimensional reconstruction of both structures, based on dual detector, confocal microscopy. Our results demonstrate a new approach for studying synaptic interactions in retinal function. These findings provide new insights into the likely number and position of functional connections from amacrine and bipolar cell terminals onto ganglion cell dendrites.

Publication types

  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Adaptation, Ocular / physiology
  • Ambystoma
  • Animals
  • Calcium / metabolism
  • Coloring Agents / pharmacokinetics
  • Dark Adaptation / physiology
  • Fluorescent Dyes / pharmacokinetics
  • Goldfish
  • Microscopy, Confocal
  • Necturus / physiology*
  • Perches
  • Perciformes
  • Photoreceptor Cells, Vertebrate / cytology*
  • Photoreceptor Cells, Vertebrate / physiology*
  • Presynaptic Terminals / metabolism*
  • Presynaptic Terminals / ultrastructure
  • Pyridinium Compounds / pharmacokinetics
  • Quaternary Ammonium Compounds / pharmacokinetics
  • Rabbits
  • Rana pipiens
  • Rats
  • Retinal Ganglion Cells / cytology
  • Retinal Ganglion Cells / physiology
  • Rhodamines / pharmacokinetics
  • Turtles


  • Coloring Agents
  • FM1 43
  • Fluorescent Dyes
  • Pyridinium Compounds
  • Quaternary Ammonium Compounds
  • Rhodamines
  • sulforhodamine 101
  • Calcium