Targeted destruction of photosensitive retinal ganglion cells with a saporin conjugate alters the effects of light on mouse circadian rhythms

PLoS One. 2008 Sep 5;3(9):e3153. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0003153.


Non-image related responses to light, such as the synchronization of circadian rhythms to the day/night cycle, are mediated by classical rod/cone photoreceptors and by a small subset of retinal ganglion cells that are intrinsically photosensitive, expressing the photopigment, melanopsin. This raises the possibility that the melanopsin cells may be serving as a conduit for photic information detected by the rods and/or cones. To test this idea, we developed a specific immunotoxin consisting of an anti-melanopsin antibody conjugated to the ribosome-inactivating protein, saporin. Intravitreal injection of this immunotoxin results in targeted destruction of melanopsin cells. We find that the specific loss of these cells in the adult mouse retina alters the effects of light on circadian rhythms. In particular, the photosensitivity of the circadian system is significantly attenuated. A subset of animals becomes non-responsive to the light/dark cycle, a characteristic previously observed in mice lacking rods, cones, and functional melanopsin cells. Mice lacking melanopsin cells are also unable to show light induced negative masking, a phenomenon known to be mediated by such cells, but both visual cliff and light/dark preference responses are normal. These data suggest that cells containing melanopsin do indeed function as a conduit for rod and/or cone information for certain non-image forming visual responses. Furthermore, we have developed a technique to specifically ablate melanopsin cells in the fully developed adult retina. This approach can be applied to any species subject to the existence of appropriate anti-melanopsin antibodies.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Behavior, Animal
  • Biological Clocks / drug effects
  • Biological Clocks / radiation effects
  • Circadian Rhythm*
  • Light
  • Male
  • Mice
  • Mice, Inbred C57BL
  • Models, Biological
  • Photochemistry / methods
  • Retina / drug effects*
  • Retina / pathology
  • Retina / radiation effects
  • Retinal Ganglion Cells / drug effects*
  • Retinal Ganglion Cells / pathology*
  • Retinal Ganglion Cells / radiation effects
  • Ribosome Inactivating Proteins, Type 1 / chemistry*
  • Ribosome Inactivating Proteins, Type 1 / metabolism
  • Rod Opsins / chemistry
  • Saporins
  • Time Factors


  • Ribosome Inactivating Proteins, Type 1
  • Rod Opsins
  • melanopsin
  • Saporins