Confocal analysis of synaptic connectivity of the rod pathway in the rabbit retina

Wei Li, The University of Texas Graduate School of Biomedical Sciences at Houston


The retina is a specialized neuronal structure that transforms the optical image into electrical signals which are transmitted to the brain via the optic nerve. As part of the strategy to cover a stimulus range as broad as 10 log units, from dim starlight to bright sunlight, retinal circuits are broadly divided into rod and cone pathways, responsible for dark and light-adapted vision, respectively. In this dissertation, confocal microscopy and immunocytochemical methods were combined to study the synaptic connectivity of the rod pathway from the level of individual synapses to whole populations of neurons. The study was focused on synaptic interactions at the rod bipolar terminal. The purpose is to understand the synaptic structure of the dyad synapse made by rod bipolar terminals, including the synaptic components and connections, and their physiological functions in the rod pathway. In addition, some additional components and connections of the rod pathway were also studied in these experiments. The major results can be summarized as following: At the dyad synapse of rod bipolar terminals, three postsynaptic components—processes of All amacrine cells and the varicosities of S1 or S2 amacrine cells express different glutamate receptor subunits, which may underlie the functional diversity of these postsynaptic neurons. A reciprocal feedback system is formed by rod bipolar terminals and S1/S2 amacrine cells. Analysis showed these two wide-field GABA amacrine cells have stereotyped synaptic connections with the appropriate morphology and distribution to perform specific functions. In addition, S1 and S2 cells have different coupling patterns and, in general, there is no coupling between the two types. Besides the classic rod pathway though rod bipolar cells and All amacrine cells, the finding of direct connections between certain types of OFF cone bipolar cells and rods indicates the presence of an alternative rod pathway in the rabbit retina. In summary, this dissertation presents a detailed view of the connection and receptors at rod bipolar terminals. Based on the morphology, distribution and coupling, different functional roles were identified for S1 and S2 amacrine cells. Finally, an alternative to the classic rod pathway was found in the rabbit retina.

Subject Area

Neurology|Cellular biology

Recommended Citation

Li, Wei, "Confocal analysis of synaptic connectivity of the rod pathway in the rabbit retina" (2003). Texas Medical Center Dissertations (via ProQuest). AAI3081467.