Intrinsically photosensitive retinal ganglion cells (ipRGCs) express the photopigment melanopsin and regulate a wide array of light-dependent physiological processes. Genetic ablation of ipRGCs eliminates circadian photoentrainment and severely disrupts the pupillary light reflex (PLR). Here we show that ipRGCs consist of distinct subpopulations that differentially express the Brn3b transcription factor, and can be functionally distinguished. Brn3b-negative M1 ipRGCs innervate the suprachiasmatic nucleus (SCN) of the hypothalamus, whereas Brn3b-positive ipRGCs innervate all other known brain targets, including the olivary pretectal nucleus. Consistent with these innervation patterns, selective ablation of Brn3b-positive ipRGCs severely disrupts the PLR, but does not impair circadian photoentrainment. Thus, we find that molecularly distinct subpopulations of M1 ipRGCs, which are morphologically and electrophysiologically similar, innervate different brain regions to execute specific light-induced functions.
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