• circadian rhythms;
  • immediate-early gene;
  • light detection;
  • retina


Non-rod, non-cone ocular photoreceptors have been shown to mediate a range of irradiance detection tasks. The strongest candidates for these receptors are melanopsin-positive retinal ganglion cells (RGCs). To provide a more complete understanding of these receptors in vivo, we have utilized a mouse that lacks rod and cone photoreceptors (rd/rd cl) and compared these animals to congenic wild-types. Using real-time polymerase chain reaction and immunohistochemistry, we address the following. (1) Is Fos expression within these RGCs driven by an input from the rods/cones or is it the product of the intrinsic photosensitivity of these neurons? We demonstrate that most Fos expression across the entire retina is due to the rods/cones, but in the absence of these photoreceptors, light will induce Fos within melanopsin RGCs. (2) Could the reported age-related decline in circadian photosensitivity of rodents be linked to changes in the population of melanopsin RGCs? We show that old mice experience an ∼ 40% reduction in melanopsin RGCs. (3) Does the loss of inner retinal neurons affect the responses of melanopsin RGCs? Aged (∼ 700 days) rd/rd cl mice lose most of their inner retina but retain the retinal ganglion cell layer. In these mice, the proportion of melanopsin RGCs that express Fos in response to light is significantly reduced. Collectively, our data suggest that melanopsin RGCs form a heterogeneous population of neurons, and that most of the light-induced c-fos expression within these cells is associated with the endogenous photosensitivity of these neurons.