Astroglia secrete factors that promote synapse formation and maintenance. In culture, glial contact has also been shown to facilitate synaptogenesis. Here, we examined whether glial contact is important for establishing circuits in vivo by simultaneously monitoring differentiation of glial cells and local synaptogenesis over time. Photoreceptor circuits of the vertebrate retina are particularly suitable for this study because of the relatively simple, laminar organization of their connectivity with their target neurons, horizontal cells and bipolar cells. Also, individual photoreceptor terminals are ensheathed within the outer plexiform layer (OPL) by the processes of one type of glia, Müller glia cells (MGs). Weconducted in vivo time-lapse multiphoton imaging of the rapidly developing and relatively transparent zebrafish retina to ascertain the time course of MG development relative to OPL synaptogenesis. The emergence of synaptic triads, indicative of functional photoreceptor circuits, and structural association with glial processes were also examined across ages by electron microscopy. We first show that MG processes form territories that tile within the inner and outer synaptic layers. We then demonstrate that cone photoreceptor synapses are assembled before the elaboration of MG processes in the OPL. Using a targeted cell ablation approach, we also determined whether the maintenance of photoreceptor synapses is perturbed when local MGs are absent. We found that removal of MGs had no appreciable effect on the stability of newly formed cone synapses. Thus, in contrast to other CNS circuits, contact from glia is not necessary for the formation or immediate stabilization of outer retinal synapses.
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