The Shape and Arrangement of the Cholinergic Neurons in the Rabbit Retina

M. Tauchi, R. H. Masland

Abstract

The acetylcholine-synthesizing neurons of the rabbit retina were selectively stained by intraocular injection of the fluorescent dye 4,6-diamidino-2-phenylindole (DAPI). Retinas were then isolated from the eye, fixed for 10-30 min with 4% paraformaldehyde, and mounted flat on the stage of a fluorescence microscope. The acetylcholine-synthesizing cells were penetrated under visual control by microelectrodes filled with lucifer yellow CH. When the dye was electrophoretically injected into the cells, complete filling of their dendrites often occurred. Cells were successfully injected as long as one month after fixation of the tissue. Complete or nearly complete filling of 281 cells was accomplished, at retinal locations systematically covering the retinal surface. The cells stained with DAPI were found to form a single morphological population. They have two to seven primary dendrites, which branch repeatedly within a narrow plane and form a round or slightly oval dendritic tree. The branching becomes very fine for the distal one third of the dendritic tree, and the dendrites there are studded with small swellings. The distal dendritic tree lies mainly within one of the two thin strata of the inner plexiform layer where acetylcholine is present. The shape and size of the dendritic tree are continuously graded across the retina; the dendritic tree is narrower and the branching denser in the central retina, wider and sparser in the periphery. From knowledge of the population density and the shape of the neurons, one can reconstruct the array of dendrites that exists within the inner plexiform layer. The overlap of the dendritic fields is an order of magnitude greater than of any other retinal neuron previously described. Because the cells not only overlap widely but branch quite profusely, a very dense plexus of cholinergic dendrites is created.