Characterization of retinal ganglion cell, horizontal cell, and amacrine cell types expressing the neurotrophic receptor tyrosine kinase Ret

J Comp Neurol. 2018 Mar 1;526(4):742-766. doi: 10.1002/cne.24367. Epub 2017 Dec 19.


We report the retinal expression pattern of Ret, a receptor tyrosine kinase for the glial derived neurotrophic factor (GDNF) family ligands (GFLs), during development and in the adult mouse. Ret is initially expressed in retinal ganglion cells (RGCs), followed by horizontal cells (HCs) and amacrine cells (ACs), beginning with the early stages of postmitotic development. Ret expression persists in all three classes of neurons in the adult. Using RNA sequencing, immunostaining and random sparse recombination, we show that Ret is expressed in at least three distinct types of ACs, and ten types of RGCs. Using intersectional genetics, we describe the dendritic arbor morphologies of RGC types expressing Ret in combination with each of the three members of the POU4f/Brn3 family of transcription factors. Ret expression overlaps with Brn3a in 4 RGC types, with Brn3b in 5 RGC types, and with Brn3c in one RGC type, respectively. Ret+ RGCs project to the lateral geniculate nucleus (LGN), pretectal area (PTA) and superior colliculus (SC), and avoid the suprachiasmatic nucleus and accessory optic system. Brn3a+ Ret+ and Brn3c+ Ret+ RGCs project preferentially to contralateral retinorecipient areas, while Brn3b+ Ret+ RGCs shows minor ipsilateral projections to the olivary pretectal nucleus and the LGN. Our findings establish intersectional genetic approaches for the anatomic and developmental characterization of individual Ret+ RGC types. In addition, they provide necessary information for addressing the potential interplay between GDNF neurotrophic signaling and transcriptional regulation in RGC type specification.

Keywords: Brn3a; Brn3b; Brn3c; Pou4f; Ret; amacrine cell; horizontal cell; lateral geniculate nucleus; neurotrophin; retinal ganglion cell; superior colliculus; transcription.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Intramural

MeSH terms

  • Amacrine Cells / cytology
  • Amacrine Cells / enzymology*
  • Animals
  • Dendrites / enzymology
  • Gene Expression Profiling
  • Gene Expression Regulation, Developmental
  • Immunohistochemistry
  • Mice, Transgenic
  • Proto-Oncogene Proteins c-ret / metabolism*
  • Retinal Ganglion Cells / cytology
  • Retinal Ganglion Cells / enzymology*
  • Retinal Horizontal Cells / cytology
  • Retinal Horizontal Cells / enzymology*
  • Transcription Factor Brn-3A / metabolism
  • Visual Pathways / cytology
  • Visual Pathways / enzymology
  • Visual Pathways / growth & development


  • Pou4f1 protein, mouse
  • Transcription Factor Brn-3A
  • Proto-Oncogene Proteins c-ret
  • Ret protein, mouse