Function and Circuitry of VIP+ Interneurons in the Mouse Retina

J Neurosci. 2015 Jul 29;35(30):10685-700. doi: 10.1523/JNEUROSCI.0222-15.2015.


Visual processing in the retina depends on coordinated signaling by interneurons. Photoreceptor signals are relayed to ∼20 ganglion cell types through a dozen excitatory bipolar interneurons, each responsive to light increments (ON) or decrements (OFF). ON and OFF bipolar cell pathways become tuned through specific connections with inhibitory interneurons: horizontal and amacrine cells. A major obstacle for understanding retinal circuitry is the unknown function of most of the ∼30-40 amacrine cell types, each of which synapses onto a subset of bipolar cell terminals, ganglion cell dendrites, and other amacrine cells. Here, we used a transgenic mouse line in which vasoactive intestinal polypeptide-expressing (VIP+) GABAergic interneurons express Cre recombinase. Targeted whole-cell recordings of fluorescently labeled VIP+ cells revealed three predominant types: wide-field bistratified and narrow-field monostratified cells with somas in the inner nuclear layer (INL) and medium-field monostratified cells with somas in the ganglion cell layer (GCL). Bistratified INL cells integrated excitation and inhibition driven by both ON and OFF pathways with little spatial tuning. Narrow-field INL cells integrated excitation driven by the ON pathway and inhibition driven by both pathways, with pronounced hyperpolarizations at light offset. Monostratified GCL cells integrated excitation and inhibition driven by the ON pathway and showed center-surround spatial tuning. Optogenetic experiments showed that, collectively, VIP+ cells made strong connections with OFF δ, ON-OFF direction-selective, and W3 ganglion cells but weak, inconsistent connections with ON and OFF α cells. Revealing VIP+ cell morphologies, receptive fields and synaptic connections advances our understanding of their role in visual processing.

Significance statement: The retina is a model system for understanding nervous system function. At the first stage, rod and cone photoreceptors encode light and communicate with a complex network of interneurons. These interneurons drive the responses of ganglion cells, which form the optic nerve and transmit visual information to the brain. Presently, we lack information about many of the retina's inhibitory amacrine interneurons. In this study, we used genetically modified mice to study the light responses and intercellular connections of specific amacrine cell types. The results show diversity in the shape and function of the studied amacrine cells and elucidate their connections with specific types of ganglion cell. The findings advance our understanding of the cellular basis for retinal function.

Keywords: amacrine cell; optogenetics; receptive field; retinal circuitry; transgenic mice; vasoactive intenstinal polypeptide.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Cells, Cultured
  • Female
  • Immunohistochemistry
  • Interneurons / cytology*
  • Interneurons / physiology*
  • Male
  • Mice
  • Mice, Inbred C57BL
  • Mice, Transgenic
  • Microscopy, Confocal
  • Optogenetics
  • Patch-Clamp Techniques
  • Retina / cytology*
  • Retina / physiology*
  • Vasoactive Intestinal Peptide / biosynthesis
  • Visual Pathways / cytology*
  • Visual Pathways / physiology*


  • Vasoactive Intestinal Peptide