Recent studies suggest that the neural retinal response to light is compromised in diabetes. Electroretinogram studies suggest that the dim light retinal rod pathway is especially susceptible to diabetic damage. The purpose of this study was to determine whether diabetes alters rod pathway signaling.
Dark and light adaptation of retinal neurons allow our vision to operate over an enormous light intensity range. Here we report a mechanism that controls the light sensitivity and operational range of rod-driven bipolar cells that mediate dim-light vision. Our data indicate that the light responses of these cells are enhanced by sustained chloride currents via GABA(C) receptor channels. This sensitizing GABAergic input is controlled by dopamine D1 receptors, with horizontal cells serving as a plausible source of GABA release. Our findings expand the role of dopamine in vision from its well-established function of suppressing rod-driven signals in bright light to enhancing the same signals under dim illumination. They further reveal a role for GABA in sensitizing the circuitry for dim-light vision, thereby complementing GABA's traditional role in providing dynamic feedforward and feedback inhibition in the retina.
Sensory systems must avoid saturation to encode a wide range of stimulus intensities. One way the retina accomplishes this is by using both dim light-sensing rod and bright light-sensing cone photoreceptor circuits. OFF cone bipolar cells are a key point in this process, as they receive both excitatory input from cones and inhibitory input from AII amacrine cells via the rod pathway. However, in addition to AII amacrine cell input, other inhibitory inputs from cone pathways also modulate OFF cone bipolar cell light signals. It is unknown how these inhibitory inputs to OFF cone bipolar cells change when switching between rod and cone pathways or if all OFF cone bipolar cells receive rod pathway input. We found that one group of OFF cone bipolar cells (types 1,2, and 4) receive rod-mediated inhibitory inputs that likely come from the rod - AII amacrine cell pathway, while another group of OFF cone bipolar cells (type 3) do not. In both cases, dark-adapted rod dominant light responses showed a significant contribution of glycinergic inhibition, which decreased with light adaptation and was, surprisingly, compensated by an increase in GABAergic inhibition. As GABAergic input has distinct timing and spatial spread from glycinergic input, a shift from glycinergic to GABAergic inhibition could significantly alter OFF cone bipolar cell signaling to downstream OFF ganglion cells. Larger GABAergic input could reflect an adjustment of OFF bipolar cell spatial inhibition which may be one mechanism that contributes to retinal spatial sensitivity in the light.