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Photoentrainment and pupillary light reflex are mediated by distinct populations of ipRGCs

Nature volume 476, pages 9295 (04 August 2011) | Download Citation


Intrinsically photosensitive retinal ganglion cells (ipRGCs) express the photopigment melanopsin and regulate a wide array of light-dependent physiological processes1,2,3,4,5,6,7,8,9,10,11. Genetic ablation of ipRGCs eliminates circadian photoentrainment and severely disrupts the pupillary light reflex (PLR)12,13. Here we show that ipRGCs consist of distinct subpopulations that differentially express the Brn3b transcription factor, and can be functionally distinguished. Brn3b-negative M1 ipRGCs innervate the suprachiasmatic nucleus (SCN) of the hypothalamus, whereas Brn3b-positive ipRGCs innervate all other known brain targets, including the olivary pretectal nucleus. Consistent with these innervation patterns, selective ablation of Brn3b-positive ipRGCs severely disrupts the PLR, but does not impair circadian photoentrainment. Thus, we find that molecularly distinct subpopulations of M1 ipRGCs, which are morphologically and electrophysiologically similar, innervate different brain regions to execute specific light-induced functions.

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We thank J. Nathans for providing several animal lines (Brn3bCKOAP, R26IAP and Z/AP) that were crucial for the completion of this study. We thank J. L. Ecker, who created the inducible cre line (Opn4CreERT2) we used in this study. We thank Z. Yang in D. Zack’s laboratory for providing the Brn3bZ-dta mouse line, which was generously provided by the original laboratory that created this line: W. Klein. We also thank R. Kuruvilla, H. Zhao, M. Halpern, A. P. Sampath and T. Schmidt for their careful reading of the manuscript and helpful suggestions and the Johns Hopkins University Mouse Tri-Lab for support. This work was supported by the National Institutes of Health grant GM076430 (S.H.), the David and Lucile Packard Foundation (S.H.), and the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation (S.H.).

Author information


  1. Department of Biology, Johns Hopkins University, Baltimore, Maryland 21218, USA

    • S.-K. Chen
    •  & S. Hattar
  2. Retinal Circuit Development & Genetics Unit, N-NRL/NEI/NIH, Bethesda, Maryland 20892, USA

    • T. C. Badea
  3. Department of Neuroscience, Johns Hopkins University-School of Medicine, Baltimore, Maryland 21218, USA

    • S. Hattar


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S.-K.C., T.C.B. and S.H. performed all experiments and wrote the paper.

Competing interests

The authors declare no competing financial interests.

Corresponding authors

Correspondence to T. C. Badea or S. Hattar.

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