Melatonin modulates M4-type ganglion-cell photoreceptors

Neuroscience. 2015 Sep 10:303:178-88. doi: 10.1016/j.neuroscience.2015.06.046. Epub 2015 Jul 2.


In the retina, melatonin is secreted at night by rod/cone photoreceptors and serves as a dark-adaptive signal. Melatonin receptors have been found in many retinal neurons including melanopsin-containing intrinsically photosensitive retinal ganglion cells (ipRGCs), suggesting it could modulate the physiology of these inner retinal photoreceptors. Here, we investigated whether melatonin modulates the alpha-like M4-type ipRGCs, which are believed to mediate image-forming vision as well as non-image-forming photoresponses. Applying melatonin during daytime (when endogenous melatonin secretion is low) caused whole-cell-recorded M4 cells' rod/cone-driven depolarizing photoresponses to become broader and larger, whereas the associated elevation in spike rate was reduced. Melanopsin-based light responses were not affected significantly. Nighttime application of the melatonin receptor antagonist luzindole also altered M4 cells' rod/cone-driven light responses but in the opposite ways: the duration and amplitude of the graded depolarization were reduced, whereas the accompanying spiking increase was enhanced. These luzindole-induced changes confirmed that M4 cells are modulated by endogenous melatonin. Melatonin could induce the above effects by acting directly on M4 cells because immunohistochemistry detected MT1 receptors in these cells, although it could also act presynaptically. Interestingly, the daytime and nighttime recordings showed significant differences in resting membrane potential, spontaneous spike rate and rod/cone-driven light responses, suggesting that M4 cells are under circadian control. This is the first report of a circadian variation in ipRGCs' resting properties and synaptic input, and of melatoninergic modulation of ipRGCs.

Keywords: circadian rhythm; light response; melanopsin; melatonin; retina; retinal ganglion cell.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Action Potentials / drug effects
  • Animals
  • Female
  • Male
  • Melatonin / administration & dosage
  • Melatonin / physiology*
  • Photic Stimulation
  • Photoreceptor Cells, Vertebrate / drug effects
  • Photoreceptor Cells, Vertebrate / metabolism
  • Photoreceptor Cells, Vertebrate / physiology*
  • Rats, Sprague-Dawley
  • Receptor, Melatonin, MT1 / metabolism
  • Retinal Ganglion Cells / drug effects
  • Retinal Ganglion Cells / metabolism
  • Retinal Ganglion Cells / physiology*


  • Receptor, Melatonin, MT1
  • Melatonin