In the retina, dopamine fulfills a crucial role in neural adaptation to photopic illumination, but the pathway that carries cone signals to the dopaminergic amacrine (DA) cells was controversial. We identified the site of ON-cone bipolar input onto DA cells in transgenic mice in which both types of catecholaminergic amacrine (CA) cells were labeled with green fluorescent protein or human placental alkaline phosphatase (PLAP). In confocal Z series of retinal whole mounts stained with antibodies to tyrosine hydroxylase (TH), DA cells gave rise to varicose processes that descended obliquely through the scleral half of the inner plexiform layer (IPL) and formed a loose, tangential plexus in the middle of this layer. Comparison with the distribution of the dendrites of type 2 CA cells and examination of neurobiotininjected DA cells proved that their vitreal processes were situated in stratum S3 of the IPL. Electron microscope demonstration of PLAP activity showed that bipolar cell endings in S3 established ribbon synapses onto a postsynaptic dyad in which one or both processes were labeled by a precipitate of lead phosphate and therefore belonged to DA cells. In places, the postsynaptic DA cell processes returned a reciprocal synapse onto the bipolar endings. Confocal images of sections stained with antibodies to TH, kinesin Kif3a, which labels synaptic ribbons, and glutamate or GABAA receptors, confirmed that ribbon-containing endings made glutamatergic synapses onto DA cells processes in S3 and received from them GABAergic synapses. The presynaptic ON-bipolar cells most likely belonged to the CB3 (type 5) variety.
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