Structure of the starburst amacrine network in the cat retina and its association with alpha ganglion cells

J Comp Neurol. 1989 Oct 22;288(4):601-11. doi: 10.1002/cne.902880407.


To investigate indirect pathways to ganglion cells we studied the starburst amacrine cell network and its relationship to the alpha ganglion cell. Starburst cells were identified by an antiserum to choline acetyltransferase and alpha cells by injection of Lucifer yellow. The density of on and off starburst cells peaks at the area centralis and decreases with eccentricity by a factor of seven. The fine amacrine processes, interrupted by distinct varicosities, arborize in a planar fashion in the inner plexiform layer. The on network, at the junction of strata 3 and 4, and the off network, in stratum 2, have a similar appearance. Neighboring starburst processes run in intimate association to form a network of bundles. As bundles cross each other, loops of irregular size and shape are formed. The loops are smallest in the area centralis and increase by a factor of three towards the periphery; correspondingly, bundle length per unit area decreases with eccentricity. However, the number of varicosities/bundle length stays constant with eccentricity as does the number of processes per bundle. Segments of the starburst network associate over fairly long distances with dendrites of alpha ganglion cells. About 26% of the alpha ganglion dendritic tree shows such association, and this is significantly greater than would be expected if the alpha and starburst processes were independent. We conclude that the functional unit of the starburst cell is a linear bundle of processes and that the starburst network may connect synaptically to the alpha cell.

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Cats
  • Choline O-Acetyltransferase / metabolism*
  • Cholinergic Fibers / metabolism*
  • Fluorescent Dyes
  • Isoquinolines
  • Retina / cytology*
  • Retina / metabolism
  • Retinal Ganglion Cells / cytology*


  • Fluorescent Dyes
  • Isoquinolines
  • lucifer yellow
  • Choline O-Acetyltransferase