Crosstalk: The diversity of melanopsin ganglion cell types has begun to challenge the canonical divide between image-forming and non-image-forming vision

J Comp Neurol. 2020 Aug;528(12):2044-2067. doi: 10.1002/cne.24873. Epub 2020 Feb 18.


Melanopsin ganglion cells have defied convention since their discovery almost 20 years ago. In the years following, many types of these intrinsically photosensitive retinal ganglion cells (ipRGCs) have emerged. In the mouse retina, there are currently six known types (M1-M6) of melanopsin ganglion cells, each with unique morphology, mosaics, connections, physiology, projections, and functions. While melanopsin-expressing cells are usually associated with behaviors like circadian photoentrainment and the pupillary light reflex, the characterization of multiple types has demonstrated a reach that may extend far beyond non-image-forming vision. In fact, studies have shown that individual types of melanopsin ganglion cells have the potential to impact image-forming functions like contrast sensitivity and color opponency. Thus, the goal of this review is to summarize the morphological and functional aspects of the six known types of melanopsin ganglion cells in the mouse retina and to highlight their respective roles in non-image-forming and image-forming vision. Although many melanopsin ganglion cell types do project to image-forming brain targets, it is important to note that this is only the first step in determining their influence on image-forming vision. Even so, the visual system has canonically been divided into these two functional realms and melanopsin ganglion cells have begun to challenge the boundary between them, providing an overlap of visual information that is complementary rather than redundant. Further studies on these ganglion cell photoreceptors will no doubt continue to illustrate an ever-expanding role for melanopsin ganglion cells in image-forming vision.

Keywords: image-forming vision; ipRGCs, melanopsin ganglion cells; melanopsin; mouse; non-image-forming vision; photosensitive ganglion cells; retina.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Mice
  • Retinal Ganglion Cells / cytology*
  • Retinal Ganglion Cells / metabolism
  • Rod Opsins / metabolism*
  • Visual Perception / physiology*


  • Rod Opsins
  • melanopsin