In the retina, photoreceptors pass visual information to interneurons, which process it and pass it to retinal ganglion cells (RGCs). Axons of RGCs then travel through the optic nerve, telling the rest of the brain all it will ever know about the visual world. Research over the past several decades has made clear that most RGCs are not merely light detectors, but rather feature detectors, which send a diverse set of parallel, highly processed images of the world on to higher centers. Here, we review progress in classification of RGCs by physiological, morphological, and molecular criteria, making a particular effort to distinguish those cell types that are definitive from those for which information is partial. We focus on the mouse, in which molecular and genetic methods are most advanced. We argue that there are around 30 RGC types and that we can now account for well over half of all RGCs. We also use RGCs to examine the general problem of neuronal classification, arguing that insights and methods from the retina can guide the classification enterprise in other brain regions.
Keywords: cell types; direction selectivity; mouse; retina; retinal ganglion cell.