Amacrine cells are a diverse population of interneurons in the retina that play a critical role in extracting complex features of the visual world and shaping the receptive fields of retinal output neurons (ganglion cells). While much of the computational power of amacrine cells is believed to arise from the immense mutual interactions among amacrine cells themselves, the intricate circuitry and functions of amacrine-amacrine interactions are poorly understood in general. Here we report a specific interamacrine pathway from a small-field, glutamate-glycine dual-transmitter amacrine cell (vGluT3) to a wide-field polyaxonal amacrine cell (PAS4/5). Distal tips of vGluT3 cell dendrites made selective glycinergic (but not glutamatergic) synapses onto PAS4/5 dendrites to provide a center-inhibitory, surround-disinhibitory drive that helps PAS4/5 cells build a suppressed-by-contrast (sbc) receptive field, which is a unique and fundamental trigger feature previously found only in a small population of ganglion cells. The finding of this trigger feature in a circuit upstream to ganglion cells suggests that the sbc form of visual computation occurs more widely in the retina than previously believed and shapes visual processing in multiple downstream circuits in multiple ways. We also identified two different subpopulations of PAS4/5 cells based on their differential connectivity with vGluT3 cells and their distinct receptive-field and luminance-encoding characteristics. Moreover, our results revealed a form of crosstalk between small-field and large-field amacrine cell circuits, which provides a mechanism for feature-specific local (<150 µm) control of global (>1 mm) retinal activity.
Keywords: dual neurotransmission; polyaxonal amacrine cell; retinal circuitry; suppressed by contrast; vGluT3 amacrine cell.