Spontaneous activity patterns propagate through many parts of the developing nervous system and shape the wiring of emerging circuits. Prior to vision, waves of activity originating in the retina propagate through the lateral geniculate nucleus (LGN) of the thalamus to primary visual cortex (V1). Retinal waves have been shown to instruct the wiring of ganglion cell axons in LGN and of thalamocortical axons in V1 via correlation-based plasticity rules. Across species, retinal waves mature in three stereotypic stages (I-III), in which distinct circuit mechanisms give rise to unique activity patterns that serve specific functions in visual system refinement. Here, I review insights into the patterns, mechanisms, and functions of stage III retinal waves, which rely on glutamatergic signaling. As glutamatergic waves spread across the retina, neighboring ganglion cells with opposite light responses (ON vs. OFF) are activated sequentially. Recent studies identified lateral excitatory networks in the inner retina that generate and propagate glutamatergic waves, and vertical inhibitory networks that desynchronize the activity of ON and OFF cells in the wavefront. Stage III wave activity patterns may help segregate axons of ON and OFF ganglion cells in the LGN, and could contribute to the emergence of orientation selectivity in V1.

Original languageEnglish
Article number38
JournalFrontiers in Neural Circuits
Issue numberMAY
StatePublished - May 10 2016


  • Asynchronicity
  • Development
  • Retina
  • Spontaneous activity
  • Synaptic refinement
  • Visual system


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