Background: Although the circadian clock in the mammalian retina regulates many physiological processes in the retina, it is not known whether and how the clock controls the neuronal pathways involved in visual processing.
Methodology/principal findings: By recording the light responses of rabbit axonless (A-type) horizontal cells under dark-adapted conditions in both the day and night, we found that rod input to these cells was substantially increased at night under control conditions and following selective blockade of dopamine D(2), but not D(1), receptors during the day, so that the horizontal cells responded to very dim light at night but not in the day. Using neurobiotin tracer labeling, we also found that the extent of tracer coupling between rabbit rods and cones was more extensive during the night, compared to the day, and more extensive in the day following D(2) receptor blockade. Because A-type horizontal cells make synaptic contact exclusively with cones, these observations indicate that the circadian clock in the mammalian retina substantially increases rod input to A-type horizontal cells at night by enhancing rod-cone coupling. Moreover, the clock-induced increase in D(2) receptor activation during the day decreases rod-cone coupling so that rod input to A-type horizontal cells is minimal.
Conclusions/significance: Considered together, these results identify the rod-cone gap junction as a key site in mammals through which the retinal clock, using dopamine activation of D(2) receptors, controls signal flow in the day and night from rods into the cone system.