The mammalian retina contains six major cell types, several of which are divided into multiple molecularly and morphologically distinct subtypes. To understand how subtype diversity arises during development, we focused on amacrine interneurons in the mouse retina; approximately 30 amacrine subtypes have been identified in mammals. We used antibody markers to identify the two main amacrine subsets--GABAergic and glycinergic--and further subdivided these groups into smaller subsets based on expression of neurotransmitter and transcription factor markers. We then used bromodeoxyuridine (BrdU) labeling to see whether amacrine subsets are born (become postmitotic) at different times, as is the case for lamina-specified subsets of cortical projection neurons. We found that GABAergic amacrines are generated on average 2-3 days before glycinergic amacrines. Moreover, subsets of GABAergic amacrines are born at distinct times. We also found a strong correlation between amacrine cell birthday and soma position in the mature retina, another point of similarity with cortical projection neurons. This relationship raised the possibility that amacrine subtype identity is determined by signals that uncommitted cells receive after they migrate to their destinations. However, cells labeled with BrdU in vivo, then dissociated and allowed to develop in vitro, acquired the amacrine subtype-specific markers appropriate for their birthdays, supporting the idea that they become specified near the time and place of their birth. Together, our results suggest that the birthdays of amacrine cells independently specify their destinations and subtype identities.
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