Quantitative methods were used to assess dendritic stratification and other structural features of developing mouse retinal ganglion cells from birth to after eye opening. Cells were labeled by transgenic expression of yellow fluorescent protein, DiOlistics or diffusion of DiI, and subsequently imaged in three dimensions on a confocal microscope followed by morphometric analysis of 13 different structural properties. At postnatal day 1 (P1), the dendrites of all cells ramified across the vertical extent of the inner plexiform layer (IPL). By P3/4, dendrites were largely confined to different strata of the IPL. The stratification of dendrites initially reflected a retraction of widely ramifying dendritic processes, but for the most part this was due to the subsequent vertical expansion of the IPL. By P8, distinct cell classes could be recognized, although these had not yet attained adult-like properties. The structural features differentiating cell classes were found to follow three different developmental trends. The mean values of one set of morphological parameters were essentially unchanged throughout postnatal development; another set of measures showed a rapid rise with age to adult values; and a third set of measures first increased with age and later decreased, with the regressive events initiated around the time of eye opening. These findings suggest that the morphological development of retinal ganglion cells is regulated by diverse factors operating during different but overlapping time periods. Our results also suggest that dendritic stratification may be more highly specified in the developing mammalian retina than has been previously realized.
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