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Eye-specific retinogeniculate segregation proceeds normally following disruption of patterned spontaneous retinal activity



Spontaneous retinal activity (SRA) is important during eye-specific segregation within the dorsal lateral geniculate nucleus (dLGN), but the feature(s) of activity critical for retinogeniculate refinement are controversial. Pharmacologically or genetically manipulating cholinergic signaling during SRA perturbs correlated retinal ganglion cell (RGC) spiking and disrupts eye-specific retinofugal refinement in vivo, consistent with an instructive role for SRA during visual system development. Paradoxically, ablating the starburst amacrine cells (SACs) that generate cholinergic spontaneous activity disrupts correlated RGC firing without impacting retinal activity levels or eye-specific segregation in the dLGN. Such experiments suggest that patterned SRA during retinal waves is not critical for eye-specific refinement and instead, normal activity levels are permissive for retinogeniculate development. Here we revisit the effects of ablating the cholinergic network during eye-specific segregation and show that SAC ablation disrupts, but does not eliminate, retinal waves with no concomitant impact on normal eye-specific segregation in the dLGN.


We induced SAC ablation in postnatal ferret pups beginning at birth by intraocular injection of a novel immunotoxin selective for the ferret vesicular acetylcholine transporter (Ferret VAChT-Sap). Through dual-patch whole-cell and multi-electrode array recording we found that SAC ablation altered SRA patterns and led to significantly smaller retinal waves compared with controls. Despite these defects, eye-specific segregation was normal. Further, interocular competition for target territory in the dLGN proceeded in cases where SAC ablation was asymmetric in the two eyes.


Our data demonstrate normal eye-specific retinogeniculate development despite significant abnormalities in patterned SRA. Comparing our current results with earlier studies suggests that defects in retinal wave size, absolute levels of SRA, correlations between RGC pairs, RGC burst frequency, high frequency RGC firing during bursts, and the number of spikes per RGC burst are each uncorrelated with abnormalities in eye-specific segregation in the dLGN. An increase in the fraction of asynchronous spikes occurring outside of bursts and waves correlates with eye-specific segregation defects in studies reported to date. These findings highlight the relative importance of different features of SRA while providing additional constraints for computational models of Hebbian plasticity mechanisms in the developing visual system.

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