Intrinsically photosensitive retinal ganglion cells: many subtypes, diverse functions

Trends Neurosci. 2011 Nov;34(11):572-80. doi: 10.1016/j.tins.2011.07.001. Epub 2011 Aug 3.


For decades, rods and cones were thought to be the only photoreceptors in the mammalian retina. However, a population of atypical photoreceptive retinal ganglion cells (RGCs) expresses the photopigment melanopsin and is intrinsically photosensitive (ipRGCs). These ipRGCs are crucial for relaying light information from the retina to the brain to control circadian photoentrainment, pupillary light reflex, and sleep. ipRGCs were initially described as a uniform population involved solely in signaling irradiance for non-image forming functions. Recent work, however, has uncovered that ipRGCs are unexpectedly diverse at the molecular, cellular and functional levels, and could even be involved in image formation. This review summarizes our current understanding of the diversity of ipRGCs and their various roles in modulating behavior.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Circadian Rhythm / physiology
  • Humans
  • Light*
  • Photoreceptor Cells, Invertebrate / cytology
  • Photoreceptor Cells, Invertebrate / physiology
  • Photoreceptor Cells, Vertebrate / cytology
  • Photoreceptor Cells, Vertebrate / physiology
  • Retinal Ganglion Cells / cytology*
  • Retinal Ganglion Cells / physiology*
  • Rod Opsins / metabolism


  • Rod Opsins
  • melanopsin