Developmental modulation of retinal wave dynamics: shedding light on the GABA saga

J Neurosci. 2003 Aug 20;23(20):7621-9. doi: 10.1523/JNEUROSCI.23-20-07621.2003.


Embryonic spontaneous activity, in the form of propagating waves, is crucial for refining visual connections. To study what aspects of this correlated activity are instructive, we must first understand how their dynamics change with development and what factors trigger their disappearance after birth. Here we report that in the turtle retina, GABA, rather than glutamate and acetylcholine, influences developmental changes in wave dynamics. Using calcium imaging of the ganglion cell layer, we report how waves switch from fast and broad, when they emerge, to slow and narrow a few days before hatching, coinciding with the emergence of excitatory GABA(A) receptor-mediated activity. Around hatching, waves gradually become stationary patches, whereas GABA(A) shifts from excitatory to inhibitory, coinciding with the upregulation of the cotransporter KCC2, suggesting that changes in intracellular chloride underlie the shift. Dark-rearing from hatching causes correlated spontaneous activity to persist, whereas GABA(A) responses remain excitatory, and KCC2 expression is weaker. We conclude that GABA plays an important regulatory role during the maturation of retinal neural activity. Using a simple and elegant mechanism, namely the switch from excitatory to inhibitory, GABA(A) receptor-mediated activity is necessary and sufficient to cause retinal waves to stop propagating, ultimately leading to the disappearance of correlated spontaneous activity. Moreover, our results suggest that visual experience modulates the GABAergic switch.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Action Potentials*
  • Animals
  • Bicuculline / pharmacology
  • Calcium / metabolism
  • Cholinergic Antagonists / pharmacology
  • Darkness
  • Excitatory Amino Acid Antagonists / pharmacology
  • GABA Antagonists / pharmacology
  • Light
  • Periodicity
  • Receptors, GABA-A / metabolism
  • Retina / embryology*
  • Retinal Ganglion Cells / physiology*
  • Symporters / metabolism
  • Turtles
  • gamma-Aminobutyric Acid / pharmacology*


  • Cholinergic Antagonists
  • Excitatory Amino Acid Antagonists
  • GABA Antagonists
  • Receptors, GABA-A
  • Symporters
  • potassium-chloride symporters
  • gamma-Aminobutyric Acid
  • Calcium
  • Bicuculline