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Mechanisms of retinal direction selectivity

Starburst amacrine cell (red) in the rabbit retina. By T. Euler

How image motion and direction is detected already at the level of the vertebrate eye is one of the most intensively studied questions in retina research.  Although the first direction-selective retinal ganglion cells were already described in the 1960s and few other retinal pathways are similarly well understood, scientists are still puzzled by the intricacy of the underlying neuronal circuits and computational mechanisms.

Already early studies suggested that multiple mechanisms are employed in the retinal computation of motion direction to achieve the robust response behaviour observed in DS ganglion cells. A surprising number of cellular mechanisms and network interactions, in combination with a highly selective local connectivity, contribute jointly to DS at the different circuit levels. We are interested in the inhibitory (GABAergic) interactions in the DS circuit, in particular among starburst amacrine cells (SACs) as well as between SACs and DS ganglion cells.

Using an optical approach for recording the population activity of retinal ganglion cell with single-cell resolution (Briggman & Euler, 2011), we recently demonstrated the pivotal function of the GABA(a)  receptor alpha2 subunit in the generation of direction selectivity (Auferkorte et al., 2012). 

Involved Scientists:Tanja Grau, in collaboration with Stylianos Michalakis (LMU) and Silke Haverkamp (MPIB Frankfurt/M.)
Funding Agency:Funded by the DFG (research grant with S. Haverkamp: “Decoding retinal circuits - Motion detection in the mammalian retina”, CIN-EXC 307)