• melanopsin;
  • circadian rhythms;
  • receptive field;
  • vision


Intrinsically photosensitive retinal ganglion cells (ipRGCs) have been well characterized in mammalian systems, both morphologically and electrophysiologically. They show slow, sustained responses to bright light in the absence of photoreceptor-based input, mediated by the photopigment melanopsin. Only one mammalian melanopsin gene is expressed in a small fraction of the retinal ganglion cell population, but there are two genes for melanopsin among nonmammalian vertebrates that are widely expressed in a variety of retinal and extraretinal cell types, along with other photosensitive pigments. The current study provides an electrophysiological study of ipRGCs in the larval tiger salamander (Ambystoma tigrinum), a nonmammalian vertebrate with a well-characterized retina. The results show that the ipRGC population is equivalent to the ON ganglion cell population in the tiger salamander retina. This sheds light on the evolutionary trajectory and functional significance of intrinsic photosensitivity through the vertebrate lineage and also affects our understanding of ON cell activity and development. We have characterized the nature of the intrinsic responses of the ON cell population, compared intrinsic and synaptically based receptive fields, and quantified the spectrum of the intrinsic activity. A wider action spectrum of intrinsic photosensitivity was obtained than would be expected for a single opsin photopigment, suggesting the expression of multiple photopigments in the salamander ipRGC. J. Comp. Neurol., 2012. © 2011 Wiley Periodials, Inc.