Direction-selective ganglion cells respond strongly to an image moving in the preferred direction and weakly to an image moving in the opposite, or null direction, and are critical for driving ocular-motor reflexes that stabilize images on the retina as we move through a visual scene. The preferred direction of direction-selective ganglion cells cluster along the cardinal directions (up, down, left and right) and the direction-selective ganglion cells sensitive to each cardinal direction are organized into mosaics such that at each point in space, each direction of motion is represented. The predominant model for the generation of direction selectivity in the retina is that a particular class of interneurons forms inhibitory synapses on the null side of the dendritic tree of direction- selective ganglion cells. The mechanisms that instruct the emergence of mosaics comprised of cells that receive an asymmetric distribution of inhibitory inputs during development are unknown. Here we propose to use a combination of state-of-the-art electrophysiological and imaging techniques to determine the mechanisms that underlie the development of these two essential features of direction-selectivity - the circuits that underlie the null side inhibition and the existence of direction-selective ganglion cells mosaics. In particular, we will determine whether spontaneous retinal activity plays a critical role in the formation of these circuits.

Public Health Relevance

Our research goal is to determine the factors that instruct the development of visual responses in the mammalian retina. In particular, we are studying the circuits that underlie the ability of the retina to detect the direction of motion of an object in the visual scene. This direction-selectivity is critical for the normal visually-driven reflexes that stabilize an image on the retina as we move through a visual scene. Our work will determine what role neural activity in the retina plays in the wiring up of these direction-selective circuits. Developing a detailed understanding of the organizing principles that govern the normal development of the circuits may make it possible to understand the origin of neurological birth defects. Very early in the development, before visual experience is possible, both electrical and chemical activity is generated spontaneously throughout the immature visual system. There is growing evidence that this early activity is critical for the appropriate development of circuits that mediate vision. These findings give us insights as to why exposure of fetuses to pharmacological agents can lead to a variety of neuropathologies. In addition, gaining insights into the role of neural activity will provide critical insights into devising strategies that allow the nervous system to rewire normal functioning neural circuits in response to developmental abnormalities that affect vision.

National Institute of Health (NIH)
National Eye Institute (NEI)
Research Project (R01)
Project #
Application #
Study Section
Biology and Diseases of the Posterior Eye Study Section (BDPE)
Program Officer
Greenwell, Thomas
Project Start
Project End
Budget Start
Budget End
Support Year
Fiscal Year
Total Cost
Indirect Cost
University of California Berkeley
Schools of Arts and Sciences
United States
Zip Code
Vlasits, Anna L; Bos, RĂ©mi; Morrie, Ryan D et al. (2014) Visual stimulation switches the polarity of excitatory input to starburst amacrine cells. Neuron 83:1172-84
Triplett, Jason W; Wei, Wei; Gonzalez, Cristina et al. (2014) Dendritic and axonal targeting patterns of a genetically-specified class of retinal ganglion cells that participate in image-forming circuits. Neural Dev 9:2
Sun, Lu O; Jiang, Zheng; Rivlin-Etzion, Michal et al. (2013) On and off retinal circuit assembly by divergent molecular mechanisms. Science 342:1241974
Rivlin-Etzion, Michal; Zhou, Kaili; Wei, Wei et al. (2011) Transgenic mice reveal unexpected diversity of on-off direction-selective retinal ganglion cell subtypes and brain structures involved in motion processing. J Neurosci 31:8760-9
Wei, Wei; Feller, Marla B (2011) Organization and development of direction-selective circuits in the retina. Trends Neurosci 34:638-45
Wei, Wei; Hamby, Aaron M; Zhou, Kaili et al. (2011) Development of asymmetric inhibition underlying direction selectivity in the retina. Nature 469:402-6
Anishchenko, Anastacia; Greschner, Martin; Elstrott, Justin et al. (2010) Receptive field mosaics of retinal ganglion cells are established without visual experience. J Neurophysiol 103:1856-64
Wei, Wei; Elstrott, Justin; Feller, Marla B (2010) Two-photon targeted recording of GFP-expressing neurons for light responses and live-cell imaging in the mouse retina. Nat Protoc 5:1347-52
Fuerst, Peter G; Bruce, Freyja; Tian, Miao et al. (2009) DSCAM and DSCAML1 function in self-avoidance in multiple cell types in the developing mouse retina. Neuron 64:484-97
Elstrott, Justin; Feller, Marla B (2009) Vision and the establishment of direction-selectivity: a tale of two circuits. Curr Opin Neurobiol 19:293-7

Showing the most recent 10 out of 12 publications