Retinal ganglion cells with distinct directional preferences differ in molecular identity, structure, and central projections

J Neurosci. 2011 May 25;31(21):7753-62. doi: 10.1523/JNEUROSCI.0907-11.2011.


The retina contains ganglion cells (RGCs) that respond selectively to objects moving in particular directions. Individual members of a group of ON-OFF direction-selective RGCs (ooDSGCs) detect stimuli moving in one of four directions: ventral, dorsal, nasal, or temporal. Despite this physiological diversity, little is known about subtype-specific differences in structure, molecular identity, and projections. To seek such differences, we characterized mouse transgenic lines that selectively mark ooDSGCs preferring ventral or nasal motion as well as a line that marks both ventral- and dorsal-preferring subsets. We then used the lines to identify cell surface molecules, including Cadherin 6, CollagenXXVα1, and Matrix metalloprotease 17, that are selectively expressed by distinct subsets of ooDSGCs. We also identify a neuropeptide, CART (cocaine- and amphetamine-regulated transcript), that distinguishes all ooDSGCs from other RGCs. Together, this panel of endogenous and transgenic markers distinguishes the four ooDSGC subsets. Patterns of molecular diversification occur before eye opening and are therefore experience independent. They may help to explain how the four subsets obtain distinct inputs. We also demonstrate differences among subsets in their dendritic patterns within the retina and their axonal projections to the brain. Differences in projections indicate that information about motion in different directions is sent to different destinations.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study
  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Axons / metabolism
  • Axons / ultrastructure
  • Cadherins / biosynthesis
  • Dendrites / metabolism
  • Dendrites / ultrastructure
  • Matrix Metalloproteinases, Membrane-Associated / biosynthesis
  • Mice
  • Mice, Transgenic
  • Motion Perception / physiology*
  • Photic Stimulation / methods*
  • Retina / cytology
  • Retina / metabolism
  • Retinal Ganglion Cells / cytology*
  • Retinal Ganglion Cells / metabolism*
  • Visual Pathways / cytology*
  • Visual Pathways / metabolism*


  • Cadherins
  • Matrix Metalloproteinases, Membrane-Associated
  • Mmp17 protein, mouse
  • K cadherin