Bipolar cell gap junctions serve major signaling pathways in the human retina

Brain Struct Funct. 2017 Aug;222(6):2603-2624. doi: 10.1007/s00429-016-1360-4. Epub 2017 Jan 10.


Connexin36 (Cx36) constituent gap junctions (GJ) throughout the brain connect neurons into functional syncytia. In the retina they underlie the transmission, averaging and correlation of signals prior conveying visual information to the brain. This is the first study that describes retinal bipolar cell (BC) GJs in the human inner retina, whose function is enigmatic even in the examined animal models. Furthermore, a number of unique features (e.g. fovea, trichromacy, midget system) necessitate a reexamination of the animal model results in the human retina. Well-preserved postmortem human samples of this study are allowed to identify Cx36 expressing BCs neurochemically. Results reveal that both rod and cone pathway interneurons display strong Cx36 expression. Rod BC inputs to AII amacrine cells (AC) appear in juxtaposition to AII GJs, thus suggesting a strategic AII cell targeting by rod BCs. Cone BCs serving midget, parasol or koniocellular signaling pathways display a wealth of Cx36 expression to form homologously coupled arrays. In addition, they also establish heterologous GJ contacts to serve an exchange of information between parallel signaling streams. Interestingly, a prominent Cx36 expression was exhibited by midget system BCs that appear to maintain intimate contacts with bistratified BCs serving other pathways. These findings suggest that BC GJs in parallel signaling streams serve both an intra- and inter-pathway exchange of signals in the human retina.

Keywords: Bipolar cell; Electrical synapse; Gap junction; Koniocellular pathway; Magnocellular pathway; Parvocellular pathway.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Connexins / analysis
  • Electrical Synapses
  • Female
  • Gap Junctions / chemistry
  • Gap Junctions / physiology*
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Neural Pathways / chemistry
  • Neural Pathways / physiology
  • Phenotype
  • Retinal Bipolar Cells / chemistry
  • Retinal Bipolar Cells / physiology*
  • Retinal Cone Photoreceptor Cells / chemistry
  • Retinal Cone Photoreceptor Cells / physiology*
  • Synaptic Transmission*


  • Connexins
  • connexin 36