The network of starburst amacrine cells plays a fundamental role in the neural circuitry underlying directional selectivity within the retina. Individual sectors of the starburst dendritic field are directionally selective by virtue of a mutually inhibitory relationship between starburst amacrine cells with overlapping dendrites. These features of the starburst amacrine cell network suggest that starburst cells regulate their dendritic overlap to ensure a uniform coverage of the retinal surface. The present study has compared the dendritic morphology of starburst amacrine cells in two different strains of mice that differ in starburst amacrine cell number. The A/J (A) strain contains about one-quarter fewer starburst amacrine cells than does the C57BL/6J (B6) strain, although the mosaics of starburst amacrine cells in both strains are comparably patterned. Dendritic field size, however, does not compensate for the difference in density, the A strain having a slightly smaller dendritic field relative to the B6 strain, yielding a significantly larger dendritic coverage factor for individual cells in the B6 strain. The area of the distal (output) annulus of the dendritic field occupies a comparable proportion of the overall field area in the two strains, but overlapping annuli establish a finer meshwork of co-fasciculating processes in the B6 strain. These results would suggest that the architecture of the dendritic network, rather than the overall size of the dendritic field, is dependent on the density of starburst amacrine cells.
(c) 2007 Wiley-Liss, Inc.