He, SG (reprint author), Chinese Acad Sci, Shanghai Inst Biol Sci, Inst Neurosci, 320 Yue Yang Rd, Shanghai 200031, Peoples R China,
Among 10 breakthroughs that Science announced at the end of 2002 was the discovery of a photosensing (melanopsin-containing) retinal ganglion cell (RGC) and its role in entraining the circadian clock. This breakthrough exemplifies the ultimate goal of neuroscience: to understand the nervous system from molecules to behavior. Light-sensing RGCs constitute one of a dozen discrete RGC populations coding various aspects of visual scenes by virtue of their unique morphology, physiology, and coverage of the retina. Interestingly, the function of the melanopsin-containing RGCs in entraining the circadian clock need not involve much retinal processing, making it the simplest form of processing in the retina. This review focuses on recent advances in our understanding of retinal circuitry, visual processing, and retinal development demonstrated by innovative experimental techniques. It also discusses the advantages of using the retina as a model system to address some of the key questions in neuroscience.