Network Architecture of Gap Junctional Coupling among Parallel Processing Channels in the Mammalian Retina

J Neurosci. 2020 Jun 3;40(23):4483-4511. doi: 10.1523/JNEUROSCI.1810-19.2020. Epub 2020 Apr 24.


Gap junctions are ubiquitous throughout the nervous system, mediating critical signal transmission and integration, as well as emergent network properties. In mammalian retina, gap junctions within the Aii amacrine cell-ON cone bipolar cell (CBC) network are essential for night vision, modulation of day vision, and contribute to visual impairment in retinal degenerations, yet neither the extended network topology nor its conservation is well established. Here, we map the network contribution of gap junctions using a high-resolution connectomics dataset of an adult female rabbit retina. Gap junctions are prominent synaptic components of ON CBC classes, constituting 5%-25% of all axonal synaptic contacts. Many of these mediate canonical transfer of rod signals from Aii cells to ON CBCs for night vision, and we find that the uneven distribution of Aii signals to ON CBCs is conserved in rabbit, including one class entirely lacking direct Aii coupling. However, the majority of gap junctions formed by ON CBCs unexpectedly occur between ON CBCs, rather than with Aii cells. Such coupling is extensive, creating an interconnected network with numerous lateral paths both within, and particularly across, these parallel processing streams. Coupling patterns are precise with ON CBCs accepting and rejecting unique combinations of partnerships according to robust rulesets. Coupling specificity extends to both size and spatial topologies, thereby rivaling the synaptic specificity of chemical synapses. These ON CBC coupling motifs dramatically extend the coupled Aii-ON CBC network, with implications for signal flow in both scotopic and photopic retinal networks during visual processing and disease.SIGNIFICANCE STATEMENT Electrical synapses mediated by gap junctions are fundamental components of neural networks. In retina, coupling within the Aii-ON CBC network shapes visual processing in both the scotopic and photopic networks. In retinal degenerations, these same gap junctions mediate oscillatory activity that contributes to visual impairment. Here, we use high-resolution connectomics strategies to identify gap junctions and cellular partnerships. We describe novel, pervasive motifs both within and across classes of ON CBCs that dramatically extend the Aii-ON CBC network. These motifs are highly specific with implications for both signal processing within the retina and therapeutic interventions for blinding conditions. These findings highlight the underappreciated contribution of coupling motifs in retinal circuitry and the necessity of their detection in connectomics studies.

Keywords: bipolar cell; circuit; connectomics; coupling; gap junction; retina.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Female
  • Gap Junctions / physiology*
  • Gap Junctions / ultrastructure*
  • Nerve Net / physiology*
  • Rabbits
  • Retina / physiology*
  • Retina / ultrastructure*