The most numerous ganglion cell type of the mouse retina is a selective feature detector

Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2012 Sep 4;109(36):E2391-8. doi: 10.1073/pnas.1211547109. Epub 2012 Aug 13.


The retina reports the visual scene to the brain through many parallel channels, each carried by a distinct population of retinal ganglion cells. Among these, the population with the smallest and densest receptive fields encodes the neural image with highest resolution. In human retina, and those of cat and macaque, these high-resolution ganglion cells act as generic pixel encoders: They serve to represent many different visual inputs and convey a neural image of the scene downstream for further processing. Here we identify and analyze high-resolution ganglion cells in the mouse retina, using a transgenic line in which these cells, called "W3", are labeled fluorescently. Counter to the expectation, these ganglion cells do not participate in encoding generic visual scenes, but remain silent during most common visual stimuli. A detailed study of their response properties showed that W3 cells pool rectified excitation from both On and Off bipolar cells, which makes them sensitive to local motion. However, they also receive unusually strong lateral inhibition, both pre- and postsynaptically, triggered by distant motion. As a result, the W3 cell can detect small moving objects down to the receptive field size of bipolar cells, but only if the background is featureless or stationary--an unusual condition. A survey of naturalistic stimuli shows that W3 cells may serve as alarm neurons for overhead predators.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Action Potentials / physiology
  • Animals
  • Fluorescence
  • Mice
  • Mice, Transgenic
  • Microscopy, Confocal
  • Models, Biological
  • Photic Stimulation
  • Retina / cytology*
  • Retinal Ganglion Cells / cytology*
  • Vision, Ocular / physiology*