Space–time wiring specificity supports direction selectivity in the retina

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Abstract

How does the mammalian retina detect motion? This classic problem in visual neuroscience has remained unsolved for 50 years. In search of clues, here we reconstruct Off-type starburst amacrine cells (SACs) and bipolar cells (BCs) in serial electron microscopic images with help from EyeWire, an online community of ‘citizen neuroscientists’. On the basis of quantitative analyses of contact area and branch depth in the retina, we find evidence that one BC type prefers to wire with a SAC dendrite near the SAC soma, whereas another BC type prefers to wire far from the soma. The near type is known to lag the far type in time of visual response. A mathematical model shows how such ‘space–time wiring specificity’ could endow SAC dendrites with receptive fields that are oriented in space–time and therefore respond selectively to stimuli that move in the outward direction from the soma.

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