Alpha cells are a type of ganglion cell whose morphology appears to be conserved across a number of mammalian retinas. In particular, alpha cells display the largest somata and dendritic arbors at a given eccentricity and tile the retina as independent on- (ON) and off-center (OFF) subtypes. Mammalian alpha cells also express a variable tracer coupling pattern, which often includes homologous (same cell type) coupling to a few neighboring alpha cells and extensive heterologous (different cell type) coupling to two to three amacrine cell types. Here, we use the gap junction-permeant tracer Neurobiotin to determine the architecture and coupling pattern of alpha cells in the mouse retina. We find that alpha cells show the same somatic and dendritic architecture described previously in the mammal. However, alpha cells show varied tracer coupling patterns related to their ON and OFF physiologies. ON alpha cells show no evidence of homologous tracer coupling but are coupled heterologously to at least two types of amacrine cell whose somata lie within the ganglion cell layer. In contrast, OFF alpha cells are coupled to one another in circumscribed arrays as well as to two to three types of amacrine cell with somata occupying the inner nuclear layer. We find that homologous coupling between OFF alpha cells is unaltered in the connexin36 (Cx36) knockout (KO) mouse retina, indicating that it is not dependent on Cx36. However, a subset of the heterologous coupling of ON alpha cells and all the heterologous coupling of OFF alpha cells are eliminated in the KO retina, suggesting that Cx36 comprises most of the junctions made with amacrine cells.
Copyright (c) 2005 Wiley-Liss, Inc.