The dorsal raphe nucleus (DRN), the major source of serotonergic input to the forebrain, receives excitatory input from the retina that can modulate serotonin levels and depressive-like behavior. In the Mongolian gerbil, retinal ganglion cells (RGCs) with alpha-like morphological and Y-like physiological properties innervate the DRN with ON DRN-projecting RGCs out numbering OFF DRN-projecting RGCs. The DRN neurons targeted by ON and OFF RGCs are unknown. To explore retino-raphe anatomical organization, retinal afferents labeled with Cholera toxin B were examined for association with the postsynaptic protein PSD-95. Synaptic associations between retinal afferents and DRN serotonergic and GABAergic neurons were observed. To explore retino-raphe functional organization, light-evoked c-fos expression was examined. Light significantly increased the number of DRN serotonergic and GABAergic cells expressing c-Fos. When ON RGCs were rendered silent while enhancing the firing rate of OFF RGCs, c-Fos expression was greatly increased in DRN serotonergic neurons suggesting that OFF DRN-projecting RGCs predominately activate serotonergic neurons whereas ON DRN-projecting RGCs mainly target GABAergic neurons. Direct glutamatergic retinal input to DRN 5-HT neurons contributes to the complex excitatory drive regulating these cells. Light, via the retinoraphe pathway can modify DRN 5-HT neuron activity which may play a role in modulating affective behavior.
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