The human visual pathway is specialized for the perception of fine spatial detail. The neural circuitry that determines visual acuity begins in the retinal fovea, where the resolution afforded by a dense array of cone photoreceptors is preserved in the retinal output by a remarkable non-divergent circuit: cone → midget bipolar interneuron → midget ganglion cell (the "private line"). How the private line develops is unknown; it could involve early specification of extremely precise synaptic connections or, by contrast, emerge slowly in concordance with the gradual maturation of foveal architecture and visual sensitivity. To distinguish between these hypotheses, we reconstructed the midget circuitry in the fetal human fovea by serial electron microscopy. We discovered that the midget private line is sculpted by synaptic remodeling beginning early in fetal life, with midget bipolar cells contacting a single cone by mid-gestation and bipolar cell-ganglion cell connectivity undergoing a more protracted period of refinement.
Keywords: circuit development; high-acuity vision; human fovea; midget bipolar cell; midget ganglion cell; retinal development; synaptic refinement.
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